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Google Search with Voice

Google just released a new version of its search app for iOS, with some enhancements to voice recognition. This update is impressive, and at the amazing price of free, highly recommended.

The blogosphere is ablaze with fanboys claiming this is a “Siri-killer.” The voice feature in Google Search is clearly not meant to compete with Siri. It is not an intelligent personal assistant, but is a clear improvement on voice-activated search. Unlike Siri, it does not engage in a conversation. It’s a one-shot deal. You speak a request, and it returns results. Sometimes the results are spoken.

The speech recognition is fast and accurate. This is where Google excels. The Google Search app for iOS can leverage that huge and fast server infrastructure. It is faster than Bing or Siri, although the latter may operate with more latency due to software complexity. However, I don’t think comparisons to Siri are warranted.

Google Search is Not Siri

Google Search is not trying to be like Siri. Google never positioned it as such. This is an artifact of the blogosphere and fanboys. The “Siri-killer” notion is spouted by fanboys, many of whom don’t really know enough about Siri to know the difference. Unfortunately, much of the blogosphere has run with this idea. I understand, ad revenues are not what they used to be. Bloggers cater to the fanboy wars to get hits and maybe even start a flame war. I personally think integrity is more important, and will get more readers in the long run.

Siri is a personal assistant. It integrates with iOS and can schedule appointments and reminders, play music and video, recommend restaurants, get sports scores, send tweets, set a timer or alarm, retrieve stock quotes, launch a video chat, call a phone number, and much more.

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To make this distinction perfectly clear, here are some examples:

I requested Google Search to “make an appointment for a massage Friday at 11am”. It returned search results for massage related sites.

Google search results for massage appointment

If Google Search was an attempt to be like Siri, it would have opened Google Calendar and added an appointment. By design, Google Search is unlike Siri. Google never positioned this voice feature to be Siri-like nor a “Siri-killer”. This is blogosphere and fanboy hype.

I asked Google Search to “play artist Rush”. It returned search results, with the soundtrack for the movie “August Rush” as the first item. No, it did not mistake “artist Rush” for “August rush”, as the screenshot demonstrates. That surprised me a little. Next to the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Rush are the highest grossing rock band in history. Nothing is perfect. Perfection of one platform over another is a figment of fanboys’ imaginations.

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Google search results for play artist Rush

Google Search does not ask for clarification or engage in conversation. I asked it “how do I get to HP Pavilion”. It returned search results for HP Pavilion.

How do I get to HP Pavillion

Then I asked again, this time saying “get me directions to HP Pavilion”. This produced the desired results (although I do not live in SSF), however it demonstrates that Google Search does not ask for clarification.

directions to HP Pavillion

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I asked it to “set a timer for 5 minutes”. Google’s app returned a page of search results. Notice that one of the results is a forum post about Siri setting a timer for 10 minutes when the user asks for 5.

Google search timer

All of this voice recognition and artificial intelligence software has a long way to go. Fanboys will marshal evidence for the side they signed a two-year contract with. That’s why I think this Android vs. iOS fanboy war is so heated. This is not like Coke vs. Pepsi. When people commit to a platform for a few years, they tend to vociferously defend their consumer choice, even resorting to intellectually fraudulent flame wars.

Google Search is a remarkable app, but it was never intended to be like Siri. It is, however, much more intelligent than it used to be.

Google Search is Intelligent

The improved Google Search app will provide a spoken response to many requests. This comes in handy if you are unable to type, lazy, don’t want to type a long search query, or disabled. It’s actually quite impressive as to what it can do:

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I asked Google Search what the weather is like today. It spoke out the current conditions and immediate forecast, as well as displaying weather information. I don’t live in South San Francisco, however.

Google search weather

I mentioned this with the iMaps fiasco — no set of mapping data is perfect. Google’s app was unable to detect the correct city I was in, but it was close enough for accurate weather information. I’m not a fanboy, so I won’t lord this mistake over them. I know, all too well, maps and voice recognition are nascent technologies. They’re flawed, buggy, and bleeding-edge.

“How do I tie a neck-tie?” was my next query. (I know how to do this, by the way, even though us Silicon Valley techies are slobs.) It produced a YouTube video that demonstrated this task. Google’s ownership of the best web entities gives them an edge in many ways.

Google search how to tie necktie

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Google Search can retrieve stock quote information if you ask for a particular quote. It does not, however, interpret a question such as “how’s the stock market doing today?” as one might expect. I get a page of search results. One needs to be specific with the app. It is intelligent to some degree, but limited in its ability to interpret commands. Since it cannot ask follow-up questions, you will get results, but maybe not what you expect. The user must be specific. If you want to know how the market is doing, ask about the DOW, S&P or NASDAQ. (continue…)

Google search vague stock info

Google search specific stock info

The Google Search browser has improved quite a bit. When I first got my iPhone, a Google fanboy told me to download the Google Search app, as I would be using it all the time. I didn’t use it because the voice recognition didn’t work well and the browser did not work in landscape mode. This has all improved. In fact, the browser can do some impressive things, such as play a YouTube video in one tab while you are surfing the web in another (of course, you only hear the audio). Safari can’t do that. This multi-tasking improvement is also available in Chrome for iOS. I personally prefer Safari, as I like the “Reader” feature quite a bit, and don’t really have a need to listen to a YouTube video while surfing the web. If I listen to music and surf the web, it is done by multitasking separate apps. In fact, I can even play music on my stereo via AirPlay and surf the web at the same time. While I don’t use Chrome much, I will be using the Google Search app quite a bit.

Google Search is smart and useful. I recommend this app to all iOS users. I expect it to improve. It could possibly become more like Siri. After all, Google does have a set of web apps for managing calendars and other tasks. Google has web portals, such as Google Finance and News, that provide comprehensive information. While the “Siri-killer” notion is complete hype, perhaps someday soon, Google Search will offer the functionality of an intelligent personal assistant. That would be great for iOS users who do not have Siri or are invested in the Google ecosystem.

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Many iOS device owners use Gmail and Google Docs. I use Gmail, Google Docs and Google Search. I think the fanboys are polemical — either you use everything Google or everything Apple. Google makes many iOS apps and Apple enables Safari and Mail users to access Google Search and Gmail.

Fanboys are simpletons. They see everything in black and white. It’s unfortunate that so much of the web tries to pour gasoline on this fire, in hopes that a flame-war will erupt on their website, and people will view more ads. I don’t know if angry fanboys actually click on ads, though.

I think it is a greedy and shortsighted tactic. Intellectual honesty is the true casuality of the fanboy wars. I own a Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, and wholeheartedly endorse Google Search for iOS. It’s a great app. Just don’t expect Siri, regardless of the hype. It simply was not designed to be an intelligent personal assistant. Siri isn’t its own Siri-killer, but merely its own detractor. Apple admitted it’s a beta version and has improved the technology in iOS 6. The demos promised much more than it could deliver. Most iOS users I know do not use it. Similarly, I will type Google search queries far more than I use the voice feature of Google Search. These technologies are in their infancy. In time, they will be the primary interface for computing.


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