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Siri, will Chrome's new speech features kill you?

Google bakes Web Speech API into browser beta

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Arguments that WIMPs' (windows, icons, menus, pointers) status as the dominant user interface paradigm are under challenge like never before just got a little stronger, after Google announced that a new beta of its Chrome browser will adopt the Web Speech API.

The API is a W3C initiative that makes it possible for browsers to tune into audio input, or even record sound.

If you're brave enough to run the Chrome 25 beta, available here, Google's demo of a voice-driven email composer shows off the new feature nicely. Google says the API also works in the Chrome Android beta.

Once the feature makes it into production versions of Chrome, things could get mighty interesting. A voice-enabled Android browser would take the mobile OS's voice-recognition capabilities beyond its current Voice Actions abilities. It will also take Android past Apple's flawed speech Siri recognition – which is, in your correspondent's experience, rather less useful than the voice-driven search in Google's iOS search app. A speechified version of Chrome on iOS with speech baked in would put the cat among the pigeons.

Speech in Chrome is not Google's only post-WIMPs experiment. One worth looking at is the collection of games created to promote global men's health charity Movember. The games use a PC's camera to control an on-screen mustache, with changes of your head position and wiggles of your upper lip replacing more conventional game controllers.

Google's adoption of the Web Speech API comes on top of numerous gesture-recognition efforts, including Intel's recent release of an SDK for its perceptual computing toolkit, Kinect for PC, and gesture-driven interfaces in all manner of Smart TVs. The frequency of announcements of this ilk signal that the industry is moving beyond the WIMPs interface. Google's addition of speech to Chrome will offer another post-WIMPs method of interaction and do so in a crucial class of application.

For now, the new Chrome beta offers more-prosaic challenges and opportunities thanks to new features including the inclusion of the Resource Timing API, the User Timing API, improvements to database handling, and new developer tools, all of which are detailed here. ®

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