Google announced an enhanced version of Google Voice Search today with some pretty awesome interaction in answers. Android 4.1 users sort of have it already. iOS users will have it in a few days. The rest of the Android world, 4.0 and below? They’ll stay waiting.
Answers, Not Search Results
Google’s long offered Voice Search for both Android and iOS platforms. What Google showed today was the latest version integrated into the Google Search app for iOS, where asking questions doesn’t bring back just search results pages but actual answers.
Search for the weather, and you get the weather displayed in a nice format, without search results below:
Ask for the distance to a place, you get a map and distance:
Ask for a fact like the salary of a baseball player and get that nugget displayed:
Showing nuggets of information like this is similar to how Apple’s own Siri works, when it pulls in information from Wolfram Alpha or other services. This makes Google Voice Search much more Siri-like, especially if you’re on an Android phone, where combined with Google Voice Actions, it can do things like launch apps.
The new app for iOS can also do a variety of other cool things, like be smart enough to play a video if you ask for it (I haven’t tried to get it to play “Shake, Rattle & Roll”). Here’s a video with more:
For iOS-Eyes Only
Now here’s the thing. See those screenshots above? They’re very elegant, very nice, and they’ll be iOS exclusive in a few days. Even Android 4.1 users won’t have this exact implementation.
I tested some of the examples above on an Android 4.1 phone. You get answers there, but the answers are shown integrated into a list of search results. It’s not as elegant. But that’s something Google told me will change for Android 4.1 users in the future.
Postscript (Aug. 9): I’ve tested all three results above, and they are now all worked identically as with how the iOS app is going to work, with answers displayed in card format.
As for the rest of the Android world, which is mostly still at Android 4.0 and below, there’s no estimate on when they’ll get the enhanced Google Voice Search. Google said it hopes to roll out updates, but it gave no timing about exactly when this will happen.
The Confusing Names
A difficult thing in understanding all this is that Google has a variety of names depending on platform, making it all very confusing.
There’s a Google Search app for Android, but only for some Android phones. Most new Android phones already have Google Search built into the operating system, meaning you can speak to get web searches.
Most of these phones also have Google Voice Actions built-in, so you can speak to launch applications, send text messages and do other actions.
Of course, Google Search and Google Voice Actions might not kick-in if the handset maker is trying to do their own thing, such as S-Voice from Samsung on the Galaxy S III.
If you have Android 4.1, you’ve got Google Now. That automatically shows information that your phone thinks will be relevant to you, shown in a really pleasing display similar to the examples above.
That’s why the new Google Search for iOS feels like Google Now. But technically, it’s not. It won’t just automatically show you information that your phone deems relevant.
To be even more confusing, you can speak to search using a search bar that’s in Google Now, even though it’s not consider part of Google Now. Google considers Google Now to be only the suggestions that appear, not the interface that shows those suggestions.
If you do use the search bar that’s within Google Now [but absolutely not part of Google Now, as Google adamantly tells me], Google Voice Search kicks in, bringing back results but not showing them in the elegant way that will happen with iOS.
That brings it back to iOS. The improved Google Search app that will appear there looks like Google Now but acts like Google Voice Search. It also acts like Siri. But it lacks Google Voice Actions, so it’s not fully the same as Siri.
All of this makes me wish Google would combine Google Search, Google Voice Search and Google Voice Actions into the Google Now brand. Get Google Now, and do a variety of cool things with your phone:
- Speak to search
- Get answers
- Make your phone do things
- Get recommendations
Some of these options won’t be available by phone, but at least that’s easier to explain that three or four different apps that in some cases aren’t even apps but native to the phone.
I’m not expecting that to happen, but I can wish. Meanwhile, the bottom line. In a few days, if you’re using an iOS device, ironically you’ll have the hottest version of Google Search that the company offers.
Postscript: Now that voice search on Android 4.1 has been updated, as noted above, you’ll have the hottest mobile Google Search offered if you have either iOS or Android 4.1 devices.