CheapAir.com Mobile Voice Search Not Very “Natural”

Several sites are touting a new voice search feature on the CheapAir.com app. The company says that it uses the iPhone’s own speech recognition capability on the front end, but then does some semantic parsing on its side to deliver flight search results.

I tried the app and found that its voice search fell quite short of my expectations. You can’t speak “naturally” and get good results. For example, you can’t say something like, “I need to go to Chicago on April 7 from San Francisco.”

cheapair voice search

If you form a query loosely or conversationally — if you speak to it as you would an “assistant” — you’ll get an error message asking you to formulate a more structured query in a way the system can better understand. The app doesn’t do “natural language processing.”

If you start speaking the app’s more structured language (to/from cities and dates) it represents a quick way to input data (speech-to-text) that may be faster for some than manually typing or inputting information into the app.

However, the promise of something like this is that you could formulate less structured queries such as, “When is the cheapest time to fly to Hawaii from San Francisco?” or “I need to go to New York on July 2nd” and get a decent result.

Maybe that will come at some future point.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Search Engines: Mobile Search Engines | Search Engines: Travel Search Engines

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Jeff Klee

    Greg,

    As the CEO of CheapAir.com, I want to thank you for taking the
    time to look at our app. I appreciate your candid feedback, the points you make
    are very fair.

    Although we’re proud of what we’ve done and think it’s a big
    step forward for flight search, we have also been careful to acknowledge that
    it’s just a baby step. We have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
    You’re right, for now we require queries that are a little more structured than
    we would like. On the other hand, our system is designed to learn as it goes
    and we plan to roll out improvements pretty quickly. In fact, you’ll notice
    that your search “I need to go to New York on July 2nd” has already
    been “learned”. That one will work now! We’ll keep making it better, I promise,
    and someday we will get to a point where open ended queries like “When is the
    cheapest time to go to Hawaii” won’t be a problem, either.

    – Jeff

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