Google and Voice

You’d think given the proliferation of voice activated home technology like Alexa, Siri, Google Voice Assistant, Cortana etc. we’d be on the home stretch for voice activation in cars, where distraction is a real life threatening problem.

I don’t travel much now, I don’t drive more than 6k miles per year, which is a good thing based on today’s experience with Google. I’ll admit, I didn’t do any scientific research, I’ve no idea what other brands do, but I got stuck in traffic today heading into Boulder. I asked Google Assistant to read a web article from Vox.

My Google Pixel 2 phone is running android pie 9, I’m a Google ProjectFi cellphone network subscriber, and the phone is paired via Bluetooth to my 2013 Mercedes Benz. I switched the car audio via a car hardware button to Bluetooth. And asked Google Assistant to read what was on my screen.

It soon started to read out loud over bluetooth, HTML and CCS. This got pretty pointless, pretty quick. I switched back to FM Radio.

I called my wife using nothing but voice activation on the Mercedes with the paired bluetooth phone. While we were talking another call came in. I ignored it, it went to voicemail. When I’d finished talk to my wife, I pressed a button on the car to end the call.

I asked the Mercedes to “call voicemail” it did. The first thing the Project Fi voicemail system asked was for my voicemail PIN. There is no way around this, I sat there trying to get Fi to recognize the PIN by saying
nine, seven, nine, six, nine, five(*1)
It was pointless… it wasn’t enabled for voice prompts. I pulled over, pressed the phone buttons for the PIN followed by the # key. I went straight to the options key-4, and there was no voice activation option.

Next-up, I tried the Google Assistant to try.

OK Google, call my voicemail

I said in my best English accent, with my best annunciation and trying not to sound “mockney“.

Google Assistant: calling

Project Fi: to access your voicemail, please enter your PIN. followed by the # key

ME: nine, seven, nine, six, nine, five

Suffice to say, it didn’t work.

Even if it had, worryingly, even when you use the keypad to logon and navigate your voicemail, after hearing individual voicemails, the only options are:

mark this message as read press 7
keep this message as new press 9

There is a more options, it’s just message details, and play message again.

If you press 7, you go back to the main menu, where the only option is 4, change your settings. No ability to re-hear messages marked as read.

All in all a pretty disappointing experience. Especially true given it’s a 100% Google experience, add in the heightened requirement to reduce distracted driving and the fact that touching your phone while driving is illegal in my cities, States and Countries.

I know for sure that 10-15 years ago, voicemail could be voice driven.
To listen to your voicemail, press or say 1.

To delete the voicemail, press or say 3

etc.
Android phone app voicemail screenYes, I do know that I can press the voicemail button on the phone app in Android, and that would bring up a screen like this with a voice to text translation of the voicemail, the ability to play the voicemail, and the ability to delete it… but that all requires physical interaction with the phone.

*1 PIN isn’t really this…