Chromebooks get an always listening “OK Google” command

Over the last year, Google added the “OK Google” hotword to both the Chrome browser and Chrome OS computers. It works well but there’s a catch: You need to be on a new, blank tab before speaking. Now, a new experimental feature adds “OK Google” support on a full-time basis for Chromebooks. As long as your Chromebook screen is powered on and unlocked, you can ask away and Google will try to obey your commands according to Google’s François Beaufort who noted the new feature on Friday.

This feature is already available on many [company]Google[/company] Android phones: Android 5.0, or Lollipop, fully supports it, for example. Adding it to a Chromebook in the same fashion is new though. And because it’s experimental, your Chromebook must be running on the Chrome OS Dev Channel. Even if it is, the function has to be manually enabled.

OK Google hotword flag

To do this, just browse to chrome://flags in your browser and scroll down to the Enable hotword hardware option. Click the Enable link and restart the browser for the change to take effect.

Once you do that, a pop-up notification will signal that you can voice search at any time. Before you start speaking to your Chromebook though, Google will walk you through a few steps to enable the required voice and audio activity functions that support the “OK Google” command. That includes training your Chromebook with your voice: Just like on an Android phone with this function, you’ll need to teach the Chromebook what you sound like by speaking “OK Google” a few times.

After that, you should be set. And you won’t need to be in a blank tab — or even in the browser at all — to use voice commands with a Chromebook.

There is one thing bothering about this though. If I were to say “OK Google” out loud right now, my Moto X would start listening; so too would my Android Wear watch if it were awake. While adding “OK Google” support to multiple devices is a welcome development, it can also be confusing if you use many devices that are always, or nearly always, listening. I’m curious if and how Google plans to address that in the future.