The New York Times reports in Friday’s newspaper that Google’s iPhone app will be updated with voice search capability. The move should come as no surprise: The launch of Goog411 in 2007 brought immediate speculation that mobile voice search was on the way, and Google tells the Times that data collection from the Goog411 project helped create this new iPhone service.
With the new Google iPhone app, you’ll be able to speak your search query into the phone rather than having to type it out. The Times article explains what happens after you ask your question:
“The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine.
The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location.”
The Times article says Google’s updated iPhone app should be available Friday. It’s a free update, and Google expects to make the voice search feature available on other phones, too.
Postscript from Greg: I just checked and the app doesn’t yet appear to be available in the iTunes store. As the Markoff article mentions in the Times, both Yahoo and Microsoft have a variety of voice search apps.
Microsoft’s Live Search mobile client app has offered voice for some time, but it’s limited to mostly local categories. Microsoft also owns Tellme, which offers both the free directory assistance alternative 800-555-Tell and an app for BlackBerry that is voice powered. Microsoft also separately operates 1-800-Call-411.
In July Google introduced a voice-powered version of Google Maps for BlackBerry. Earlier this year Yahoo introduced voice for oneSearch (full web search) with Vlingo. This is what Google is now introducing essentially.
As mentioned, there are also a host of free directory assistance alternatives in the market (six or seven major ones), including Tellme, Call-411 and Goog411. The recognition engine behind Goog411 powers the new iPhone voice search.
Among the range of “voice search” and free directory assistance alternatives services now in the market, mobile ChaCha is noteworthy because it allows users to ask any question, essentially full web search, not just “what city what listing.” It also uses humans behind the scenes to disambiguate and answer queries. ChaCha has said that some of its heaviest users are doing query volumes that mirror search activity levels on the desktop. Hypothetically the more queries, the more ads — potentially.
In terms of the iPhone, a range of companies are working voice “search” or control for the device, including Nuance which previously demo’d voice control and search for the iPhone. The first to officially offer a voice capability for search was Dial Directions, which has two voice controlled iPhone apps, Say Who and Say Where. The former is voice control for contacts/dialing and the latter, introduced several months ago, is voice-based local search through selected sites via the Safari browser.
The key with all of these voice applications is the accuracy of the speech recognizers. The failure rates remain an issue, although they’re improving and variable from app to app.
So far voice has not proven to be the “killer app” for mobile search (as I once believed it would be). However Google’s new voice search iPhone capability should be helpful in selected situations — while in the car, for example, when directory assistance is most heavily used or for longer “long tail” queries that are highly specific. Indeed, it may result in longer or more precise query strings.
Regardless, I’m sure the new Google voice search capability will be quite popular among iPhone users.