Speaking to Google Voice Search

Last week I wrote a piece detailing Google’s new voice searching functionality for the iPhone, and at the time sources predicted a Friday launch. Well, it didn’t come Friday, but it’s finally here, and based on early impressions, it’s an impressive piece of software.

I downloaded the updated application late last night. Being a chronic mumbler, I wasn’t expecting much out of Google’s speech recognition tech. Saying the word “elephant” as I normally would, without taking extra care to enunciate, I fully expected to be greeted with search results for “ill F-1’s” or something equally garbled. The app had no problem deciphering my garbled request, however, and returned the correct results. Time for something more complicated.

This time I wanted to see if the much-talked-about semantic search capabilities actually worked, so I asked my iPhone some questions like “Where is the closest sushi place?”. Again, though I was prepared to be let down, I wasn’t. After the top result, which was a general info sushi page, local results near Toronto, ON (which is in fact where I live) were displayed, complete with contact numbers and links to get directions. Voice search is not limited to web results, either. You can say someone’s name to bring up that person’s contact entry from the Address Book.

As with any voice recognition tech, there are a few issues. I found that the app didn’t deal well with background noise, and acted up sometimes when the television was on in the background, even at mid- to low-volume. Also, when using longer sentences, I found that I did have to artificially heighten my enunciation, rather than using my normal speaking voice. Overall, errors were minor and did not really inhibit my usage.

The update brings other changes as well. More Google App links are available via the apps button at the bottom of the screen, where a new 3-button navigation menu is located. Settings are available in the app, and you can set your domain on this screen to include your own, domain-specific Google Apps in the Apps list.

With or without voice search, this is definitely a must-have for iPhone owners. Get it free in the App Store.

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