Mozilla Releases Firefox Voice Assistant Beta
Mozilla has debuted voice controls for its Firefox browser. Firefox Voice is currently in beta and will likely get a more complete release after ironing out bugs and other problems with the feature.
Speaking to Firefox
Firefox Voice performs like a smart display voice assistant within the browser as an extension. Unlike a smart speaker, it doesn’t have a wake word, at least not yet, and is activated by clicking on the icon in the address bar. The tool is limited to the desktop version of the browser and only works in English. Once activated, the assistant will answer questions by using the default search engine or go to specific websites if it recognizes them. A brief test found that it will recognize big company names relatively quickly, but will do a search instead if it’s a more obscure website. The more interesting aspect of the voice assistant is that it can manage the browser’s tabs and control media playback. For instance, it will start or stop a YouTube video and adjust the volume. Firefox Voice also understands requests for maps and translations and can even copy and paste text, although it can be slightly tricky to pick out which parts of a website to highlight for copying.
Firefox Voice is built on Google Cloud Speech Service, so theoretically it can understand anything that Google has added to its platform. That also means all of the voice commands are routed through Google’s servers but doesn’t hold any records of what it processes, according to Mozilla. By default, Mozilla doesn’t hang onto the recordings either, although users can opt-in to a program where the audio will be used to improve Firefox Voice. You can see how it works at the moment in the video below.
Google already offers a voice search in its Chrome browser and is working on replacing it with Google Assistant, so Mozilla’s concept isn’t entirely new. But, Firefox has plenty of fans, especially on desktop computers, so integrating voice technology into the platform could encourage a lot more people to use voice as a way of interacting online. Google’s speech technology powers Firefox Voice, giving the search giant a win in this case as well.
Firefox Voice also represents a different approach to voice assistants on the web from companies like speak2web, which offers a WordPress plugin for people to search and shop by voice within websites, as well as mobile apps. The speak2web platform uses indexed data on a website to make it easier to search for information and can also carry out transactions for online shopping entirely by voice. That vision of every website with its own website is very different from the idea of one voice assistant for a whole browser. The fact that more than a third of all websites run on WordPress in some form gives speak2web a lot of space to operate in, but if Firefox, Chrome, and other browsers all include a voice assistant, companies may be less likely to be interested in building their own and paying to operate it.