Hands On With Google’s Voice Search for iPhone: Not a Breakthrough, But Nifty

By  |  Monday, November 17, 2008 at 11:59 pm

iphonemikeFirst, it made a splash last Friday, complete with a New York Times story. Then it failed to arrive when folks thought it would. But now the new Google Mobile App for iPhone with voice search is live in Apple’s iTunes App Store. I’ve been playing with it and enjoying the experience–and while it’s by no means revolutionary, it is pretty darn clever.

Google really wants you to try the voice features: The first time you launch the new version of the app, you get a cutey-cute animated intro explaining how voice search works, and an invitation to watch a training video…



Voice search is indeed simple–you hold the phone up to your ear, wait for a beep, then say your search query. The Mobile App chugs away, for as little as a couple of seconds and as long as twenty seconds or so in my tests…


…and then delivers results for your search.


That’s assuming, of course, that it figures out what you said–the first time I said “Hotel Lucerne New York,” I got this:


And occasionally, the app just throws up its hands, figuratively speaking:


Overall, Mobile App’s success rate was good enough to impress me: It understood me close to ninety percent of the time. And when it didn’t, it was generally with searches that involved names of people or products that aren’t household names. (It pains me to report that I couldn’t get it to understand “Technologizer.” Lord knows I tried…)

Voice Search is at its most obviously useful when it combines your spoken query with its knowledge of your location–thanks to GPS in the case of the iPhone 3G–to give you local results. I happen to be blogging from Cambridge today:




In the end, Google Mobile App’s Voice Search is about one thing: saving you the effort of tapping out queries on the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. Typing isn’t that hard, and Mobile App doesn’t even necessarily save you time, since it can take a while to parse your vocal input, and you don’t know if the app heard you correctly until it starts to return search results. But it’s nice to have options, and the voice feature does what it does well: Until voice recognition reaches 100% accuracy, it’s hard to imagine anyone executing it much better than Google has.

Voice search will undoubtedly become Google Mobile App’s signature feature. But the program does other stuff, too: You can search by typing if you prefer, and there are convenient links to such Web-based Google services as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Reader. If you use Google and you’ve got an iPhone, you need to give this free program a try. And if you do, let me know what you think…


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Rodrigo Says:

    I’ve been wanting to try this app out but unfortunately it’s not available in my country (Chile).

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Rodrigo: Sorry to hear that–maybe Google or Apple will get it to you eventually…