Google’s new voice search – has Google just attacked Siri on Apple’s own turf?

31 Oct 2012

You get the sense that Google is content to wage its war with Apple by inflicting a death of a thousand tiny cuts; a tweak here, a new feature there. But the launch of a new voice-enabled Google Search app for iOS that competes with Siri on its own turf seems quite a direct attack.

Just days after launching three new screen experiences in the form of the Nexus 4, the Nexus 7 with HSPA+ and the Nexus 10, Google has just launched a new Google Search app for iOS devices, like the iPhone and the iPad, with enhanced voice search that answers any question with Google search results.

Er, isn’t that Siri’s job?

The internet giant says that fast and accurate voice recognition technology in the new Google Search app enables Google to understand exactly what you are saying.

That is some claim because a lot of the time Siri doesn’t understand my Irish accent, no matter how clearly I enunciate and apparently it can’t penetrate the Scottish accent to any great degree, either.

Google says the new app is equipped with Knowledge Graph technology that gives Google’s search technology an understanding of people and places in the real world. For example, ask it what Yankee Stadium looks like and it will return images of the stadium or if you ask for it to play a trailer of the new Bond movie Skyfall, the trailer will start playing immediately in the search results.

Google engineer Kenneth Bongort explained:“Getting an answer is as simple as tapping on the microphone icon and asking a question like, ‘Is United Airlines flight 318 on time?’ Your words appear as you speak, you get your answer immediately and – if it’s short and quick, like the status and departure time of your flight – Google tells you the answer aloud.”

The future of intelligent devices

From talking to several people at the recent Dublin Web Summit I got the sense that a lot of innovators are working towards making our personal devices act as better personal assistants. Ones that get to know you better than you know yourself and potentially may even hold conversations with you.

Silicon Valley blogger Robert Scoble pointed out that while he likes Siri, it doesn’t talk back to him. “That is dumb,” he pointed out, indicating his anticipation for new devices and services like Google Glass and greater intelligence in the services we use.

Greater artificial intelligence in the devices we carry and interact with is just the beginning. At the summit, Liam Casey’s PCH International announced a deal with Intuitive Automata to produce a robot coach called Autom that can learn about each user it interacts with and adapt to him or her and a user’s needs over time. Apparently no two conversations with the robots are alike.

I look forward to Apple’s own response to this latest affront from Google and wonder what direction Siri will go in next. If he/she/it can understand my accent, I’m sure we’ll have many exciting conversations.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years