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25th of June 2018

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Mozilla's next browser might be controlled by your voice

Will our next browser just read us websites?Will our next browser just read us websites?Image: Shutterstock / tommaso792017%2f10%2f24%2f21%2fraymondwong3profile.34d72By Raymond Wong2018-06-14 15:28:12 UTC

Firefox maker Mozilla is working on an entirely new type of internet browser: One that's controlled with your voice. 

Because why not? We're all getting used to talking to Alexa, Siri, and the Google Assistant and asking these digital assistants to tell us information that we'd normally have to type out on a computer or a phone. 

Looking into the future, a voice-controlled browser capable of reading you an online article sounds like a no-brainer. 

Though Mozilla has yet to formally announce any such futuristic browser, CNET was the first to report about the "Scout app" project after discovering a company talk about its development online. 

The talk took place on June 13 and was led by Mozilla software engineer Tamara Hills.

Per the speaking session's abstract:

"Hey Scout, read me the article about polar bears. With the Scout app, we start to explore browsing and consuming content with voice. This talk will discuss the architecture and key components needed for a voice platform, the required capabilities of those components and the challenges of working with the limitations and confines of existing platforms."

Beyond immediate convenience — anyone who's ever asked Alexa or the Google Assistant for things like the weather or news briefings knows what we're talking about — a voice-controlled browser could open up the web to more people, especially those with conditions that might prevent them from having access.

For example, someone with impaired vision could benefit from using their voice to search the web without needing to be able to look directly at a display.

It would also be useful for those who aren't as savvy with technology — like the elderly who may not know how to use a computer or type. Voice could be very handy for them.

The Scout app is said to be an "early-stage project," which suggests development could still be a long way's away.

Last year, Mozilla launched Common Voice, project for crowdsourcing audio recordings from the public. The goal was to collect 10,000 hours of audio in order to improve speech recognition from for voice-powered apps. It's possible the Scout app could a project born out of this voice database.

Long before Google Chrome arrived, Mozilla commanded a reasonable chunk of the web browser market with Firefox, leapfrogging Internet Explorer with features like faster speed and extensions. But Firefox is a shadow of its former self with only about 5 percent of the web browser marketshare compared to Chrome's 58 percent, according to StatCounter.

Mozilla revamped Firefox last year with Firefox Quantum, focusing on speed and being less of a memory hog. In our tests, Quantum loaded many websites faster than Chrome. 

That's great, but expecting users Chrome users to ditch it for Firefox Quantum — even if it is very speedy — is a losing strategy. It's dwelling on a past that's gone. With a voice-controlled browser, Mozilla is looking towards the future — skating to where the puck will be, not where it has has been.

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