Google Gets Spoken Search Right With Latest Update [Review]


Speak and you shall find
Speak and you shall find

No matter how long it spent waiting for approval, Google’s updated search app for iOS was worth the wait. Is it a shameless Siri-clone for web search? Yes, pretty much? Is it fast, instantly usable, and useful? Oh yes. Oh yes it certainly is.

Let’s take a look at each of those things in order. First, the Siri-ness of the whole thing.

There’s a Siri-style “tap to speak” button at the bottom of the screen. There’s a Siri-style “bip!” to let you know the app is listening. There’s a Siri-style “diddle-ling!” to announce that it’s found something to show you. It feels extremely similar to using Siri. So close, that it hadn’t been through Apple’s approval process and been approved, I’d be expecting lawyers to be jumping with glee at the thought of more fees to earn in another “Hey! They copied us!” lawsuit.

And yet, it has been approved. So I suppose Apple’s happy.

Like Siri, Google Search understands you immediately, no matter what your voice sounds like. Your spoken command is echoed to the screen instantly, with words occasionally incorrect but replacing themselves as Google makes sense of the context and adjusts accordingly. It’s a bit like Google Instant making sense of your typed searches as you type.

Best of all, it’s fast. Incredibly fast. I tested out a variety of searches over wifi and 3G, and was stunned at the speed with which Google returned genuinely useful, accurate results. It’s too easy for us to take this sort of technology for granted these days, but try to stop and consider what’s going on behind the scenes. Try to imagine how much hard work has gone into making all the different technologies (the app, the voice recognition, the search algorithm, and plenty more) work together and deliver so much to your phone, so quickly.

So yeah. I like it.

Don’t bother with ‘What are you wearing?’

After a couple of hours, I suddenly encountered a “Voice search is temporarily unavailable” message, which was frustrating, but temporary – it lasted just a couple of minutes. Glitch happens.

Since I’m using an older iPhone 4, I don’t get the voice playback of search results. Newer devices do get that, as shown in the official promo video…

When it first appeared, Siri was famous for its sense of humor and dozens of Easter Egg responses to smart-ass questions. The only one I could find inside Google Search was “What’s the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?” which was correctly answered with “42”, shown in a neat calculator view. Start asking it about woodchucks and it shows you a link to a page on tongue-twisters.

There’s more to the app than the voice stuff, of course. There’s access to your apps (both kinds – Google webapps, and Google native apps that you have installed), and Google Goggles, which searches for photos based on photo input.

But the voice search is the key feature here. No matter how much Google and Apple are at each other’s throats, this search app is evidence that they can still make beautiful things together, even when working apart. Spoken search is something that’s demonstrably useful on a mobile device, and Google has hit the spot with this updated app.

Source: App Store