A View from Erica Naone

Test-Driving Google Voice Search

The new application only occasionally thinks that I want flying pizza.

  • November 18, 2008

Google (finally) released its new voice-search application for the iPhone today, and I had the chance to take it for a spin. Instead of typing in search queries using the small (and slightly annoying) keyboard, a user speaks her search, and the software takes it from there.

So, just how good is it?

I was a little concerned at first, because the people who tried before me hadn’t had much luck. One coworker said, “Find pizza,” and Google helpfully offered the Flying Pizza restaurant in downtown Dayton. One of my editors, who recently arrived from the United Kingdom, asked for “pictures of Boston” and received “sketches of Buffy.”

Things went much better for me. My own nondescript accent, which has been homogenized by travels from one U.S. coast to the other, seemed to suit the application just fine. I had great success searching for “Star Wars” and “movie times at the Loews in Boston Common.” Then I tried “Thai restaurants in Allston.” As the top result, Google offered me Thai restaurants in Austin, TX, but using the iPhone’s GPS capability, it also figured out that I might have meant something a bit closer to my current location in Cambridge, MA. I expect that most people will use the application for location-based searches such as finding restaurants, so it’s good to see those features working well. By tapping the search box, I could easily scroll through several alternatives and choose one.

Overall, Google Voice Search is pretty neat. The speech recognition is impressive when you consider that I didn’t have to go through any of the training that’s usually needed for such applications. Even so, I did manage to confuse it from time to time. For example, when I searched for the old television show The Dukes of Hazzard, the application curiously returned some information about Jesus.

Video by Brittany Sauser

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