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Sunday, 16 November 2008 13:14

Google's iPhone mobile app - still speechless

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Google’s “Mobile App” for iPhone was meant to get an upgrade allowing iPhone users to search Google by voice, with the New York Times reporting it would come “as soon as” last Friday – but so far, Google’s mobile app remains speechless.

Google’s mobile app for iPhone has been around now for several months, delivering Google’s search engine in more intuitive way than simply typing a query into Safari’s search box or that on google.com.

While the app is free and is popular, the last few days has seen much interest in a heavily touted new feature: voice recognition letting you speak your requests instead of typing them.

The feature is enabled in an updated version of the Google Mobile App, which is surprisingly still not available after a few days of promotion, that existing users will rush to download as soon as Apple decides to let Google's voice search app speak for itself.

It works by recording your voice and sending it to Google’s servers, transcribing your voice by software into text and feeding the results into Google’s search engine. The results are displayed on your iPhone’s screen, with the entire operation supposedly taking only mere seconds – provided you are on a 3G network or connected to WiFi.

This suggests the software works just fine on 2G iPhones as well, but will simply take a few seconds longer thanks to the slower nature of 2G mobile data networks.

How accurate the software is in noisy environments is yet to be seen, and no doubt there will be stories of Google’s voice app displaying results for words that sound curiously similar to your spoken words but are inaccurate, although Google will naturally continue improving its software no matter what the initial reaction ends up being.

Although Google’s iPhone page was promoting the app, with a video showing how to use it, that promotion and video have mysteriously disappeared.

Conspiracy theorists have wondered whether Apple has been offended by Google’s brazen pre-publicity of an app not yet available to download, or if it has its own speech recognition app on the way, while others simply suggest Apple simply hasn’t yet approved the app for download.

A still-available video of the service in action and more information is on page 2, please read on.


An article by Apple watcher Philip Elmer-DeWitt has covered this news, with one of Philip’s readers sharing a new link for the Google speech video.

The video that some sites link to now says it is “unavailable”, but this new YouTube video, still up at the time of publishing this article, succinctly shows just how cool a voice enabled search experience can be.

If you haven’t seen it, and want to know what all the fuss is about, click it quick before it too gets pulled off the Internet.

My take is that the app’s non-appearance is just a minor storm in a teacup, and no matter what reason Apple is delaying the app’s appearance, it will soon appear for free download to any iPhone user that wants it, presumably including any second generation iPod Touch user with the microphone headset as well.

My original article on the Google voice search app can be found here.

An alternate voice search app for desktops, notebooks, netbooks and UMPC’s (but not the iPhone) is called Tazti (pronounced tasty), and while this is not voice dictation software like Dragon Naturally Speaking 10, it performs the same computer voice control tricks (such as voice command of iTunes, your browser, different search engines and more), while being totally free of charge.

However PC and Mac users wanting both voice control of their computers and speech recognition will need the commercially availabe "Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking 10" on Windows machines and "iListen" on Macs.

Expect Google's new voice enabled Mobile App to appear soon!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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