Google has launched a new feature for its easy go search application: text-to-speech reading for websites. The tool is designed to make the web feel more accessible to users in developing countries, says Google, reads any site high by pressing a button. Impressive is that driven by the company's AI, but easy enough to use over 2G connectivity – an important feature for markets where bandwidth comes to a premium.
Started last year in India and Indonesia as part of a growing package of Google products meant to capture "next billion" Internet users. As technically remarkable in a related blog post, India already has the second largest population of Internet users in the world, with 40 million new users coming online every year . There is a lot of potential growth.
Text-to-speech will make the web more accessible to new users, "says Google. It can also help those who do not use text at all. As a report last year in The Wall Street Journal noted, users in developing countries often avoid writing and reading in favor of sharing voice messages and images. Voice recognition helps users navigate online without writing, but text-to-speech can help them consume what they find there.
The new feature will be available in 28 languages, including some of the most widely used in India: Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi and Tamil. (India recognizes 22 official languages in total.) The features also highlight words on the page as it speaks them, and helps users to keep up with; and has the ability to change the playback speed.
"Using this technology makes use of long-term text as simple as watching TV or listening to the radio," Google claims. "It's also useful for multitasking, like following a recipe while making a meal, listening to articles while exercising, or retrieving news on your commute." Unfortunately, the feature is not available in Google Search Main Guru.