Summary:

New notification features for Google Now and richer voice recognition in searches on mobile devices and desktops keeps Google the search to beat.

Amit Singhal, a Google senior vice president and Google Fellow
photo: Janko Roettgers

Google’s search capabilities are king, and they’re getting richer now with features including the use of more powerful voice recognition on mobile devices and desktops,

At its Google I/O conference Wednesday, company execs introduced “conversational search” capabilities. As Google implements its “hotwords,” users will no longer need to click the microphone in the search bar to start using voice recognition. All users have to do is say, “OK, Google,” and then speak commands. Google relies on natural language processing to figure out what users want to do and then serves up results.

Combine that with Google search’s ability to go beyond serving up graphs and other data in response to user questions and actually weave in additional information Google thinks users are looking for. For example, if you search for China, Google will not only show changes in population over the decades, but it will also graph the countries  China’s population is often compared to — India and the United States.

This is possible as Google keeps expanding knowledge graph, which now has more than 570 million entities, such as people, places and things, said Amit Singhal, a senior vice president and Google Fellow.

Coming soon: More knowledgeable searches

The knowledge graph operates with searches in English and eight other languages. Starting today, Singhal said, it will be  available in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Polish and Turkish.

Google is also integrating personal data into searches in Chrome on desktops and laptops, which makes loads of sense. Flight reservations, restaurant reservations, package deliveries, and other user-generated information can be rapidly pulled up in the familiar interface of Google search results. That could put an end to going through emails of paper for this sort of information, saving users time.

 Johanna Wright, vice president of search and assist for mobile at Google. Source: Janko Roettgers

<br />Johanna Wright, vice president of search and assist for mobile at Google. Source: Janko Roettgers

Google has provoked lots of buzz and some concerns with its Google Now feature on mobile devices. The application will soon allow users to set reminders — to call someone, buy something — and expect them to occur only at the right time.

Parlaying personal and general data

Johanna Wright, vice president of search and assist for mobile at Google, took some of these new and upcoming features for a spin. As an example, she said she wanted to plan a day trip to Santa Cruz, Calif. So she said “OK, Google” — bringing Google to attention — “show me pictures of the Santa Cruz boardwalk.” Up came multiple pictures in a horizontal bar at the top of search results. She wanted to know the length of the trip and said, “OK, Google, how far is it from here?” Google figured out that “here” was her current location, in San Francisco, and “there” was Santa Cruz and displayed a map and spoke back that the drive would take an hour and 21 minutes.

She then asked seafood restaurants and got a list. Then she asked Google a tough question: “How tall do you have to be to ride the Giant Dipper?” Google came back with, “You must be at least 4 feet 3 inches tall to ride the Giant Dipper. “Nice,” she said. “Looks like my son can go on.”

On a mobile device, Wright also directed Google Now to send a quick email based on her voice commands, which happened right away, and set a reminder for her to call a friend when she arrives in New York on a business trip. FInally, she was able to tell Google to show the pictures she made during a previous trip. And about 16 pictures came right up.

The combination of personal data with more traditional search data is a logical next step for Google, which has no shortage of either. While Google Now has critics, it could become more popular with these new features. And how could people — investors included — question Google’s innovations in search, its core product. The voice recognition capabilities make searching still more intuitive and set the bar still higher for everyone else.

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