Google has launched a new feature for its lightweight Go search app: text-to-speech reading for websites. The tool is designed to make the web feel more accessible for users in developing countries, says Google, reading any site aloud at the touch of a button. Impressively, it’s powered by the company’s AI but lightweight enough to use over a 2G connection — an important feature for markets where bandwidth comes at a premium.
Go launched last year in India and Indonesia as part of a growing suite of Google products meant to capture the “next billion” internet users. As the tech giant noted in an accompanying blog post, India already has the second largest population of internet users in the world, with 40 million new users coming online each year. That’s a lot of potential growth.
Text-to-speech will make the web more accessible for new users, says Google. It might also help those individuals who don’t use text at all. As a report last year in The Wall Street Journal noted, users in developing countries often avoid typing and reading in favor of sharing voice messages and images. Speech recognition helps users navigate the web without typing, but text-to-speech could help them consume what they find there.
The new feature will be available in 28 languages, including some of the most commonly spoken in India: Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi, and Tamil. (India recognizes 22 official languages in total.) The features also highlights words on the page as it speaks them, helping users follow along; and has options for altering playback speed.
“Using this technology, consuming long-form text becomes as easy as watching TV or listening to the radio,” claims Google. “It’s also helpful for multitasking, like following a recipe while cooking a meal, listening to articles while exercising, or catching up on news on your commute.” Unfortunately, the feature does not seem to be available in the main Google search app.