Google Accessibility team unveils Voice Access for truly hands-free phone control

Using your phone hands-free is a luxury to most of us. We cheer when Google Assistant can start a timer while we're washing sticky dough or slimy meat juices off our hands, or helps us make a call without taking our eyes off the road, or rewinds the music while we're jamming out in the shower. For millions with dexterity, motor, and mobility impairments, hands-free is the only way they can interact with a smartphone or computer, and the Google Accessibility team has worked with these users to develop Voice Access (opens in new tab), an accessibility service that can allow users to navigate their phones and complete more tasks morre quickly with voice controls.

Voice Access ties into Google Assistant, allowing users to navigate through apps and menus, compose and edit messages and text documents, and complete more tasks than ever before thanks to a new level of granular control. Voice Access lets you translate voice commands into button presses, page scrolls, and precise item selection.

Look at the home screen screenshot with Voice Access turned on. Every app, every touch shortcut in a widget, everything on the screen is given a numeric assignment, allowing you not just to say "Open Maps", but to say "Click 8" to open the weather shortcut in the At a Glance widget, or "What is 12" to figure out what that option is. It's not perfect in every app yet — and it didn't work at all in some games I tried to navigate with it — but it's a great start and I'm sure more improvements are coming.

The best part of Voice Access might be that it's insanely easy to start and stop once you've installed it and given it Accessibility permissions. The voice access numbers that appear on every target disappear the second you touch the screen, but they return when you say "OK Google" or tap Voice Access's "Touch to start" persistent notification.

Because Voice Access integrates with Google Assistant and is easy to turn on and off, this app is handy not just for people with mobility issues, but for everyone who uses Android. Voice Access is a 10 MB app that everyone should download and play with at least once, because — heaven forbid — if you break your hands in a car crash or a workplace accident, Voice Access might become the most important app on your phone.

Voice Access at Google Play (opens in new tab)

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • OMG - this is great. I immediately forwarded this to my friends and coworkers... Thank you. Note - you may have to go into your system app settings and give it permission to use the microphone. In the initial app setup on my phone - it didn't ask for microphone permission - I had to go in there and manually grant it permission. The two permissions needed are phone and microphone... And granted permission for the Accessibility Service too...
  • Thank you for the tip on granting microphone permission. I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't trigger by voice. Granted that permission and problem solved.
    Voice Access still has some issues but after using it for a couple hours today I am truly impressed. This is the future of phone interaction.
  • Tried it last week. Didn't like it and certainly not as fluid as Bixby. Also found for me that it locked up my phone app where I couldn't answer calls by touching the accept button.
  • Can it read texts outloud and then let you respond to them hands free? I would really love this feature, while I'm driving.
  • I use third party apps to read my texts while driving. One such app I'm using right now is 'ReadItToMe 2.0', there are others.. Also - You can ask Google Assistant to read your last message, after reading it to you, it will ask you if you want to respond; all by voice.
  • Oh the good ole days of Windows phone but people chose apps over functionality
  • I've played with the App little bit now... If I ask it to read my last text; it will take me to 'Messages' and show me the text, it will not read it. It displays a - number - in the reply box and you have to say that number and tell it to type your response. So this is a - visual app - not a - voice app - as far as the interface is concerned. The main focus is on a visual interface; you have to see it, read it, and then give it voice commands. I would not recommend this for general use while driving...