Sara's Column: Evolving tech offers unexpected presents

One of my favorite things about tech is how it always seems to be evolving.
Aug 29, 2014

One of my favorite things about tech is how it always seems to be evolving.

I’ll grant you, it can get annoying at times when that $300 gadget you just bought is outdated within a few months. Then there’s the whole, “Let’s release a whole new OS the minute you’ve learned most of the ins and outs of the current one.”

But once you get past the annoyances, it’s actually pretty cool watching how the advances in technology seem to speed up exponentially each year.

Take cellphones, for instance. Watch a movie from 2000 and tell me you don’t get at least slightly jarred looking at the cellphones then compared to the ones now. There’s no comparison.

And with the advent of smartphones, a lot of those advancements don’t even require new hardware. Thanks, I suspect, to the heated battle between Google and Apple, neither of the biggies can wait to send out their latest and greatest mobile operating system updates.

I think I’ve been through three just within the past year, and each one is noticeably more advanced than the last.

And I always seem to stumble across a new-to-me feature that makes it feel like opening a present on Christmas morning.

The latest present was Google Now.

Although it’s not necessarily a new feature, it’s a relatively newly improved one.

There are multiple components to Google Now, but the part that has most impressed me has been the voice recognition aspect of it.

Voice recognition is not new to cellphones, but in my experience, it’s always been clunky, cumbersome and all-around too annoying to be bothered with.

I did, however, make a game out of seeing just how badly it could mangle phrases, but the novelty eventually wore off on that one.

After its rocky start, I wrote it off as a feature I wanted anything to do with.

Recently, though, I began hearing about how much Google had improved its voice recognition, so I decided to give it a try.

Still skeptical, I nonetheless set it up and gave myself a quick tutorial on how to use it.

One of the first steps is to “train” Google to recognize you’re voice. So holding your phone an arm’s length away, you say “OK, Google,” three times in succession. Green checkmarks tell you when you’re done.

Surely that can’t be enough, I thought. 

Apparently it was, though. 

After spending about an hour putting it through the paces – opening apps, searching phrases, sending text messages, making phone calls, playing music and more – I was officially hooked.

It hiccupped on a few phrases and commands, but overall it was very accurate. I can now send a text by voice without fear of accidentally saying something wildly inappropriate.

Beyond its improved recognition, it also now understands more complex phrases. 

After speaking the required “OK, Google” to wake it up, you can ask it questions conversationally, such as “Is it supposed to rain today?” and it will reply appropriately.

Kinda cool.

So, yeah, I have a new toy and it’s not even Christmas yet.  

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports. 


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