Hands-free with Android

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New road rules introduced in 2012 restrict the use of mobile phones while driving. Technology - in the form of smartphone voice control - offers one solution to keeping drivers' eyes on the road. There's been significant attention paid to Apple's Siri voice control on the iPhone, but just what does Google Android have to offer?

There are currently two dominant phone operating systems in the market. Apple's IOS runs on the company's own phone and tablet hardware: the iPhone and iPad. The other is Google's Android, which runs on phones and tablets produced by a large number of handset makers including Samsung, LG and HTC.

One of the standout features on Apple's IOS-based iPhone is Siri. This feature allows the user to operate the phone by voice - instructions can be spoken to the handset to place calls, send text messages, dictate emails, play music and morei.

Not to be outdone, Google's Android operating system includes Voice Actions that offers similar functionality to Siri. Voice Actions will run on phones operating with Android 2.2 (Froyo) and laterii. From version 4.1 Jelly Bean, the feature has a redesigned interfaceiii. As CNet reviewer Jessica Dolcourt puts it, Voice Actions in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean "looks and acts a lot more like Apple's Siri than it did before."iii

Google Voice Actions provides voice control for Android smartphones. Users can make calls, dictate text messages and more.

In terms of features Google's Voice Actions for Android lets the useriv:

There are naturally many comparisons online between Siri and Google Voice Actions by both experienced mobile phone commentators and amateurs alike. The commentary points to strengths and weaknesses in both platforms, however for basic services - such as initiating calls by voice - both Android's Voice Actions and Apple's Siri get the job done.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Google Now

Android versions 4.1 Jelly Bean and above also include Google Now. Google Now is personal assistance functionality, providing users with relevant information to help manage their dayv. For example, it can display the weather, local public transport information and nearby places such as restaurants. The information is presented on 'cards', which pop up throughout the day as you need themv.

Android's personal assistant application Google Now in action, displaying up to the minute information on 'cards'.

Jelly Bean's developers were looking to produce something that was more user-friendly and interactivevi. Compared to Ice Cream Sandwich (the preceding version of Google's Android operating system, 4.0), Jelly Bean includes notifications that are larger (making them easier to read) and interactive elements that allow users to respond to missed calls, and to view the weather without having to navigate away from the notifications screenvii.

Voice control smartphone technology can offer a way for drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. If you're looking for a voice control solution for your smartphone and it runs Android 2.2 (Froyo) or higher then download Google Voice Actions. Importantly, when using hands-free technology such as Android's Voice Actions while in the car, it is important to do so with care and appropriately according to your respective state laws.

i Apple, iPhone features, Siri: Your wish is its command, http://www.apple.com/ios/siri/

ii Paul, I., 2011, Apple’s Siri vs Android’s Voice Actions: Feature Showdown, http://www.pcworld.com/article/242198/apples_siri_vs_androids_voice_actions_feature_showdown.html

iii Dolcourt, J., 2012, Android 4.1's voice search not the same as Google Now, CNET, http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19736_7-57470504-251/android-4.1s-voice-search-not-the-same-as-google-now/

iv Google, Voice Actions, http://www.google.com/mobile/voice-actions/

v Google, Google Now, http://www.google.com/landing/now/

vi Android, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, http://www.android.com/about/jelly-bean/

vii Dolcourt, J., 2012, Android Jelly Bean (4.1), CNET Australia, http://www.cnet.com.au/android-jelly-bean-4-1-339340621.htm