Can Google voice search for iPhone spur adoption?

November 14, 2008

gvs Google has built a voice search feature into its free iPhone application, allowing users to query its search engine by simply speaking a few words. Unfortunately, Google hasn’t managed to gain traction with either of its previous forays into voice-input search.

The concept for voice input for search on the iPhone is a relatively simple one. Users simply push a button and tell Google what to search for. Then a window opens up to display the search results and everyone cheers.

Many people would be surprised to learn that this isn’t a new feature for Google at all. In fact, Google engineers have been toiling away on voice-input on a search engine for at least six years now. The company has released a few other products with voice input with little success.

The origins of this concept lie within a 2002 Google Labs release called simple Google Voice Search. You could call a number with a 650 area code to reach a voice-bot that asks you to, “Say your search keywords.” Then you would click on a link on the page to see your results.

This was a Google Labs product that never quite graduated. You would actually have to already be on a Google web page to use the product, which then took about three seconds to display your results. Compare that with the fraction of seconds that most queries on Google take and the Voice Search product starts to sound completely unusable.

Then, in 2007, Google launched a local voice search product called GOOG-411 into Google Labs where it still remains. This service allows you to place a call to 1-800-GOOG-411 to speak your location and search for local business listings.

GOOG-411 is a free service that is still available today, but few people actually use. That could be because the name evokes an image more akin to trolling for an escort than a source for Chinese take-out, or because it’s just completely superfluous.

Whatever the reason, people haven’t demonstrated much interest in voice input for search. Kudos to the Google team for remembering they had this capability on a shelf somewhere. But if it’s OK with you, I think I’ll hold off on getting too excited about it quite yet.

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