Google Docs Has a New Killer Feature

3 minute read

Welcome back to the feature war. On Wednesday, Google will unveil a spate of new functions to Google Docs including voice dictation (Google’s calling it voice typing) which should be very nifty if it works as advertised.

Not only can you speak what needs to be typed, Google can translate what you say into 40 languages. A caveat: “We’re not sure it can handle the Boston accent yet,” said Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google Docs.

To use the feature, a user needs to click on a microphone button and go. Microsoft Office does not have this yet, although since Microsoft has translation and speech recognition capabilities of its own, it’s probably just a matter of time.

Google, which gained early recognition for its applications by enabling team members to collaborate on documents, also added a “see new changes” option that lets you view all the changes made by your group while you were away. Perfect for control freaks.

“The idea is to make creating a document more of a conversation,” Tabone told Fortune.

There is also a new “research” feature on the Google Docs Android app which lets a user working on a particular topic highlight text to pull up relevant charts and graphs on that topic for easy insertion into her document. I’m not sure how Google handles intellectual property rights on all that stuff, but for anyone over 30, typing on a phone is a challenge and making it easier to add pertinent information to a document would be helpful.

And, Google also spiffed up its Sheets spreadsheet application with more polished templates. Sheets is probably where Google needs to make up the most ground against Microsoft since most spreadsheet jockeys still see Excel as the defacto standard. But remember, Google Sheets could do to Microsoft Excel what Microsoft Excel did to Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet standard 20 years ago. Just saying.

Microsoft Office 2016, slated to debut broadly later this month, adds more collaborative capabilities including simultaneous edits on Word documents.

Google gained traction by taking the productivity suite to a subscription on-demand model. Microsoft has responded but Google Docs remains the cheaper option with a free version for consumers and a business edition starting at $5 per month per user or $60 a year. Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions start at $10.00 per user per month or $120 per year.

Office has been a cash cow for Microsoft and no one doubts how serious Microsoft is about it. Some still aren’t sure if Google, on the other hand, sees these applications as a priority. Google says it has added 100 features and improvements this year, and Google Docs is well entrenched among consumers, startups, and even some larger companies.

Analyst Sara Radicati, chief executive of the Radicati Group, said there should be no doubt that Google’s serious about these applications.

“They have invested heavily for the past 10 years or more and continue to do so,” she said via email. The Google lineup compares well with Office, and Google still sports a better cloud model while “Microsoft has to integrate with many desktop components that require constant updates,” she added.

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See the Fantastically Weird Images Google’s Self-Evolving Software Made

These pictures aren’t from the mind of a person on psychedelic drugs. Instead they represent the way Google’s AI software is able to reinterpret different images
Google’s software, called an artificial neural network, is able to learn in the same way a human brain does.
Google trains the network to see by feeding it millions of images that teach it how to interpret different objects.
The network is built of 10 to 30 layers of artificial neurons, each of which interpret different levels of complexity in an image.
These pictures were made by feeding the network an arbitrary image and allowing it to enhance whatever it deems most important
The images serve as a way to test how well the network has learned during training
The results are colorful, jarring and beautiful. Each layer of the network can come up with a different interpretationGoogle
Google calls this process of abstract re-interpretations of images “inceptionism”
Certain objects are often re-interpreted in similar ways. Horizon lines are often filled with towers and pagodas, rocks turn into buildings, and birds or insects appear in pictures of leaves
In addition to re-interpreting images, the network can create “dreams” from a random-noise image by continually building new impressions on top of its old ones Google
In the future neural networks could be used by artists as a new form of visual expression
Google will continue using neural networks for everything from voice recognition to identifying people in its Photos app

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