With the release this week of Chrome 46, Google’s browser lost the ability to trigger the search function with a simple verbal command. The now-iconic “OK Google” will no longer work with the desktop version of the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.
You can still say “OK Google” to activate the search capability on Android devices and Chromebooks—just not on traditional desktop PC platforms. The up side is that now your PC won’t spring to life when a commercial comes on TV that says “OK Google”, or when your friend is over and says “OK Google” to his smartphone.
I use Chrome as my default browser most of the time. I can honestly say, though, that I have only used the “OK Google” feature one time—and that was just to verify that it actually worked when I learned that Google had added the feature. I have Windows 10 and I do occasionally use the “Hey Cortana” voice trigger, but that’s because Cortana does more than just search and enables me to interact with the operating system and open applications.
The concept is much more useful for a mobile device in my opinion. I frequently use “Hey Siri”—the equivalent voice activation command on iOS—with my iPhone. Unless you have the new iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus, though, the device has to be plugged in to listen for the “Hey Siri” command, so I use it primarily while driving so I can interact with the phone without taking my hands off the wheel or my eyes off the road.[related-posts]
Google’s explanation for removing the “OK Google” feature is that it doesn’t get much use on the desktop. At first glance lack of use might not seem like a valid reason to remove the feature, but when you consider the system resources required for Chrome to constantly listen for an “OK Google” command that never comes, and the developer effort necessary to maintain and update the code for the feature it makes sense. Unused features also pose a security risk because an attacker can still exploit it even if you never use it yourself.
Speaking to your computer (or smartphone for that matter) is still a foreign concept for most and highly impractical much of the time. The speech-to-text translation has improved drastically over recent years, but it’s still not perfect and you need to have relative silence in order for the feature—whether it’s “OK Google”, “Hey Siri”, “Hey Cortana”, or even dictation software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking—to hear and understand you.
If you really love(d) the “OK Google” feature in Chrome on your desktop PC there’s still some hope. When Google first introduced “OK Google” to the Chrome browser for the desktop it was as a Chrome extension. Now that the feature will no longer be directly woven into the browser, it’s possible Google will bring back the Chrome extension in the near future. The Chrome extension would still allow those who want the “OK Google” feature to add it back in.
Besides, the removal of the “OK Google” feature doesn’t mean you’ll be forced to type (gasp!) your search queries in Chrome. Search by voice is still available. You’ll just have to actually click the little microphone icon in the search bar on Google.com rather than just barking out “OK Google”.