Google has made another move in separating a feature from Android and make it as a standalone app on the Google Play Store, and this time the feature is text-to-speech. By itself, text-to-speech doesn’t do much for the standard Android user, but the app works in conjunction with various other Android apps to deliver a richer user experience.
For instance, text-to-speech works with the Google Maps app to deliver voice-guided turn-by-turn driving instructions. It also works with the Play Books app to read books out loud. And the text-to-speech engine is also part of Android’s accessibility feature that allows the blind to navigate the Android OS with voice.
By separating the app from the traditional Android OS, Google will be able to deliver updates to text-to-speech more rapidly. This means that rather than having to wait for manufacturers to deliver the latest versions of the Android update or sit around for carrier approval for those updates to be sent to users over-the-air, Google can push these updates directly out to end-users directly through the Google Play Store as standard app updates. Google has been employing the Play Store for app updates, rather than as a system update through updating the Android OS itself, for a number of its own apps already, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, and others.
The update is currently available to devices running Android 4.0.3 or later.
Potentially, Google could more rapidly deploy updates to the text-to-speech voice engine that offers more accurate pronunciation and those updates could come out more quickly than before.
At this point, it’s unclear what Google’s plans are for text-to-speech, but the move may give even more importance to the feature than ever before. With the most recent Nexus 5 launch and Android 4.4 KitKat, Google has made Google Now and Google voice Search an “always on” utility so that you can say “OK Google” anytime and Google Now would activate. Potentially, Google Now could be updated in the future to speak back with you and have a conversation with the user, much like Apple’s Siri, so Google may want to more quickly improve the text-so-speech engine for updates.
Google already responds by voice to a few basic and direct queries, but most of Google Now’s results are still delivered as text through Google searches. Improvements to Google’s text-to-speech could signify a shift from a more visual UI to a voice experience in the future.