Google Makes Android Voice Access Feature Compatible With Older Devices
Google is making the latest version of the Voice Access app for Android, which allows users to navigate and control the device entirely by voice, available on older devices. The Android 11 iteration of Voice Access is now usable on Android devices going back to Android 6.0.
Voice Access is designed to make Android smartphones and other devices usable by people with disabilities or who just can’t touch their device a the moment. Google has been improving Voice Access since it debuted in 2018, but the Android 11 update this summer expanded the app’s capability enormously by adding natural language processing to the feature. Instead of specific and limited commands, users can use Voice Access more like Google Assistant with its grasp of context and casual language. The update also brought a ‘visual cortex’ to Voice Access that made the AI smarter in labeling and responding to visual elements on the screen to make it easier to navigate by voice command.
“This version of Voice Access, which was previously available on Android 11, is now available globally to devices running Android 6.0 and above,” Google Research senior product manager Tom Hume said in a statement. “Thanks to machine learning and a refreshed interface, it’s easier to use your voice to control your phone.”
Making Voice Access backward compatible also fits with Google’s larger effort to highlight new accessibility tools and programs. The biggest addition might be Android Action Blocks, which combine Google Assistant commands into a single button on the home screen. Android devices introduced Sound Notifications, which alerts people who can’t hear critical noises like alarms or crying babies. This year also brought eye-tracking controls to Google Assistant, an expanded Lookout feature that can read food labels for Android, and voice cues for Google Maps to guide people with limited sight.
Google also runs broader programs that connect its technology with accessibility, usually as part of its Diva Initiative. Project Euphonia, for instance, works to train voice assistants to understand those with speech impairments, while Project Guideline is developing a way for blind and visually impaired people to go on runs safely by using an Android smartphone app to track painted lines on the ground and different sounds played in earbuds them what direction and how far they are away from their path.