Imagine one day you come home from work and your house computer, run by Google, asks if you want to order takeout, since it knows you usually come back at the same time each day and it guesses your favorite foods since it runs using the Android operating system, the same as your profile on the company's other digital platforms. You agree and ask it to call for takeout, since it is linked with your phone. After the call you say, "OK, Google, what time is 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' on TV tonight?" It tells you the show time and before long you are on the couch, eating takeout and watching TV characters talk to a computer on their spaceship. You didn't touch your phone or your laptop to do any of this.
Google is planning for a not-too-distant future that looks something like this, with more convenient digital services blended with more relevant advertising. The search engine giant created the Open Auto Alliance to bring its Android system in 2014 to car computers of vehicles built by Honda, Hyundai, General Motors and Audi. The company announced on Monday it will buy Nest Labs, which designs smart thermostats and smoke detectors that gather data on homes. Companies at the Consumer Electronics Show also displayed how tablets are turning into remote controls for washing machines, computers and air conditioners.
Without going into detail about specific products or the company's new business deals, Scott Huffman, senior engineering director at Google, says the future of search will be voice driven on many more devices than simply PCs and mobile phones where its voice-activated Google Search app is available. The company's Google Now digital assistant application takes that voice search a step further with predictions on what a user needs, and Apple's personal assistant app Siri on iOS is its main competitor. Both applications include features to book reservations online and search the Internet when asked questions, but also remind users about things they might need based on their location and schedules.
"Voice is the most natural way to ask for information, rather than fiddling with a keyboard," Huffman says.
Search engines have evolved in the past five years from simple responses on a screen to location-driven suggestions through a smartphone, and five years from now voice-activated search queries triggered by phrases like "OK Google" will become second nature, Huffman says.
"It's pretty clear that in your home in the next few years there will be a proliferation of devices that interact with your voice," Huffman says. "The idea that it was not the case will be foreign to my kids."
Cars are already driving innovation in this space, helping users call people with a voice request, rather than driving with one hand on the wheel and their phone in the other in violation of driver safety laws. Commands like "navigate to the airport" already give directions to Google Search app users. Apple's Siri mobile networking system is also found on cars including those built by Honda. Cars built by Ford also offer the Sync mobile networking system designed by Microsoft.
"It's pretty clear there is a real desire for people to continue on with their life while they drive, to communicate with other people and to get things done," Huffman says.
Google's expansion of voice search to more areas of people's lives will mean chances to advertise things we might need, possibly on Android tablets and smartphones integrated with the home and car platforms, says Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner market research firm.