Google lets you talk to your doc(ument)


Pitching it as a back-to-school product, Google on Wednesday introduced an update to Google Docs that allows users to speak to their documents.

The update that uses Google’s speech recognition software for voice-typing is a way of keeping notes “on the go or during a meeting, trying to get the thoughts inside your head into a document,” Ritcha Ranjan, a product manager for Google Docs Editors, said in an interview.

Google isn’t the first company to do this — Apple has made its products able to respond to voice dictation for years — but the search giant points to its 40 different languages and nuanced speech recognition capabilities as a unique asset.

It’s also designed for classrooms and students composing essays, said Ranjan, who noted that her 9-year-old son had asked her to make Google Docs respond to voice. The company says users can “activate Voice typing in the Tools menu when you’re using Docs in Chrome. Then, when you’re on the go, just tap the microphone button on your phone’s keyboard and speak your mind.”

The voice-texting capabilities begin rolling out today, as do several other education-related updates. One is a new research tool for Docs in Android that allows users to use Google’s search engine while composing documents. Another is an “explore” option for creating charts in Google Sheets, the spreadsheet app. And there’s a new website-sharing capability for teachers who use Google Classroom’s Chrome extension.

The latter update came after pilot projects at several schools in the Bay Area and around the world, said Zach Yeskel, a Google for Education product manager and former teacher at Castlemont High School in Oakland.

“We want teachers to spend a lot less time tech-ing and a lot more time teaching,” Yeskel said.

And with the company’s new preschool-style logo, it might see its classroom presence grow even more pervasive in coming years.

Above: At left, Google’s new voice-texting update for Google Docs. At right, a Google school-themed mug at the company’s San Francisco office on Sept. 2, 2015. (Photo by Matt O’Brien)