Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Google Plants Voice Assistant Flag on Siri's Turf

Google revamped its search application for iOS this week, adding an enhanced version of voice search technology that could compete with Apple's voice assistant Siri.

Voice Search is an extension of Google's core search engine that now provides contextual, intuitive, spoken results for voice queries and Web searches on Apple's mobile OS. The updated Voice Search uses what Google calls its "Knowledge Graph" to make broad searches more relevant.

The updated version is well-equipped to handle broad searches such as "What does Yankee Stadium look like?" Additionally, it can handle personal assistant duties such as updating an appointment or reading a text, Google said.

The improved search is available as part of an update to Google's search application for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Google did not respond to our request for comment.

Google's decision to bring its revamped voice technology into Apple's ecosystem shows that while the two companies once partnered in some areas, the smartphone battle has turned them into serious rivals, said Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research.

"It is an in-your-face action by Google to bring its own voice search into iOS," he told MacNewsWorld.

The two companies have been at the forefront of smartphone innovation, so it makes sense that they would compete for leadership in one of the newest areas of mobile computing, said Neil Mawston, executive director of the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics.

"Google Voice Search has been competing with Apple Siri for several years," Mawston told MacNewsWorld. "Google and Apple know that perceptual computing, with features like speech-driven search, is the next major battleground for smartphones, and Google Voice Search and Siri are the first early steps in those battles."

In that battle, Siri has a tough competitor with the enhanced Google Voice Search, Mawston observed.

"The latest update of Google Voice Search for iOS enhances the product and takes the competition between Google and Apple to another level," said Mawston.

One programmer and tech blogger, Dan Nguyen, tested Google's newly launched Voice Search against Siri to find out information about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He reported that Google's Voice Search showed him the latest news about the storm, including emergency information, while Siri pointed him in the direction of the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team.

He also said Google's Voice Search gave much quicker responses.

Google may have figured out a way to give Voice Search an edge over Siri, Miller noted. For all those potential perks, though, no voice technology is perfect, at least not yet.

"Whether it's Siri, or Google Voice Search, or Dragon Go, or any number of mobile voice assistants, the speech recognition fails on the order of 10 percent of the time," he noted. "Google's new voice search may not be as sensitive to those failures if, indeed, the knowledge graph approach lets it limit the number of possible results and thereby increases the possibility that it will provide an accurate answer."

That means that even if Google's Voice Search can beat out Siri -- or other competitors -- in certain instances, it's still not stellar enough product to win over most consumers or drive major device sales, said Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"Voice is a hard problem to solve. Even Siri needs work. This is a horse race, and multiple players are vying for the pole position," he told MacNewsWorld.

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