Update to Google Docs can minimize typing on small screens, or perhaps eliminate it with a new voice dictation feature.
Welcome back to the feature war. On Wednesday, Google will unveil a spate of new functions to Google Docs including voice dictation (Google’s calling it voice typing) which should be very nifty if it works as advertised.
Voice typing supports 40 languages. A caveat: “We’re not sure it can handle the Boston accent yet,” said Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google GOOG Docs.
To use the feature, a user needs to click on a microphone button and go. Microsoft Office does not have this yet, although since Microsoft has speech recognition capabilities of its own, it’s probably just a matter of time.
Google, which gained early recognition for its applications by enabling team members to collaborate on documents, also added a “see new changes” option that lets you view all the changes made by your group while you were away. Perfect for control freaks.
“The idea is to make creating a document more of a conversation,” Tabone told Fortune.
There is also a new “research” feature on the Google Docs Android app which lets a user working on a particular topic highlight text to pull up relevant charts and graphs on that topic for easy insertion into her document. I’m not sure how Google handles intellectual property rights on all that stuff, but for anyone over 30, typing on a phone is a challenge and making it easier to add pertinent information to a document would be helpful.
And, Google also spiffed up its Doc, Slides and Sheets applications with more polished templates. Sheets is probably where Google needs to make up the most ground against Microsoft since most spreadsheet jockeys still see Excel as the de facto standard. But remember, Google Sheets could do to Microsoft Excel what Microsoft Excel did to Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet standard 20 years ago. Just saying.
Google gained traction by taking the productivity suite to a subscription on-demand model. Microsoft has responded but Google Docs remains the cheaper option with a free version for consumers and a business edition starting at $5 per month per user, or $60 a year. Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions start at $10 per user per month, or $120 per year.
Office has been a cash cow for Microsoft and no one doubts how serious Microsoft is about it. Some still aren’t sure if Google, on the other hand, sees these applications as a priority. Google says it has added 100 features and improvements this year, and Google Docs is well entrenched among consumers, startups, and even some larger companies.
Analyst Sara Radicati, chief executive of the Radicati Group, said there should be no doubt that Google’s serious about these applications.
“They have invested heavily for the past 10 years or more and continue to do so,” she said via email. The Google lineup compares well with Office, and Google still sports a better cloud model while “Microsoft has to integrate with many desktop components that require constant updates,” she added.
For more on Google and its reorganization, check out the video.
Note: This story was updated at 4:06 p.m. to reflect that the dictation feature supports 40 languages and that Docs itself does not translate spoken words.
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