I’ll be the first to tell anyone that I don’t use virtual assistants all the time. I don’t rely on the Google Assistant or Alexa to do simple tasks I can routinely do for myself and it isn’t because I don’t like them or think they don’t work: I simply don’t want to get in the habit of utilizing digital assistants until they get quite a bit more conversational. For things like turning on a smart light, locking a door, or checking the weather, I don’t mind using an assistant. However, because I’m not bent towards leaning on it regularly, I probably don’t get as much out of the Google Assistant as I could.
That may change after today. I’m not kidding. My regular, daily use of the Google Assistant is likely to skyrocket with this new feature that was just rolled out: the ability to read any web page aloud. Whether or not this sounds awesome to you in this moment, just go with me for a second as we unpack what is going on here and why it will likely be incredibly useful for many.
At its most basic, this new feature does exactly what you expect. It allows the Google Assistant to simply read web pages aloud to you in a natural-sounding voice with a nice cadence. Pauses for commas and periods are dictated the way you’d expect and the decidedly-digital voice sounds very natural. The Assistant reads off the title, the author, and then begins to read through the entire article, highlighting each word spoken along the way.
But it gets better. Way better. When you start a reading session, the entire thing happens in a dedicated media player that gives you options to play/pause, skip ahead or back, and change the playback speed from 0.5x all the way up to 3x. On top of that, the player behaves just like any other media player in that it provides the ability to continue playing when the screen is locked and gives you a rich notification with playback controls as well. This allows you to start up the reader for a long article and go about doing something else while the Assistant reads the entire thing to you. I will 100% start using this for my daily walks or when driving to ingest news that I would otherwise put off in hopes of finding time to read later.
Even better is the fact that websites don’t need anything special in place to take part in all this. No extra code, no tags, no meta data: the Assistant can read any web page unless the web developer for that site has included the proper meta tag that disallows this. I’m sure there are fringe cases where this would be needed, but I’d assume most sites you visit will be readable by the Google Assistant out of the box.
Google claims that this can happen for sites in up to 42 different languages, so this new features is definitely not limited to just English. They didn’t specify which languages are supported, so I’d suggest just giving it a try in your native tongue to see what happens. For users who have issue reading or with reading comprehension, this new Assistant ability will open up a whole new world of information. Whether using it to help aid accessibility or simply to multitask and ingest some info on the go, I can’t express how amazing this feature is to use. To see it in action, just summon the Google Assistant and say, “read this page.” And then be amazed.