You can probably thank Siri for this. Speech recognition isn’t exactly a new technology, but the “digital voice assistant” in the iPhone 4S has certainly encouraged us to start looking for things using our voices rather than typing with our fingers.
Not to be outdone, Google has more than its fair share of voice-based solutions, too. In fact, much of Google Voice Search was already around well before the boys and girls in Cupertino decided to outfit the latest iPhone with Siri. It doesn’t quite work the same way as Siri, though, since it’s not so much about having a “natural speech” conversation with a virtual assistant. Instead, it’s really just a more convenient way to do the same Google searches that you’ve already been doing.
Let’s look at three separate implementations of Google Voice Search that all work in fundamentally the same way.
Built Into Google Search for iPhone and iPad
In the case of Apple iDevices, there isn’t a separate application for Google Voice Search. Instead, it’s a part of the larger Google Search app for the iPhone and iPad.
Yes, the regular search bar is there and you can use Google Search how you’ve always used it. However, you’ll also notice the inclusion of that little microphone icon next to the search bar. Tap that and you can use your voice to define your search term.
The search results are geo-targeted, meaning that if you look for “sushi restaurants,” the first listings will be sushi restaurants near you. There’s also a nifty image carousel to see your image results in full size, which is very useful on the smaller display of an iPhone. And finally, the Google Search app offers quick access to other Google apps, like Gmail, Calendar, and Docs, in case you don’t have the dedicated apps for those already.
Google Voice Search for Google Android
You didn’t think that Google would bypass some heavy Google integration in its own smartphone platform, did you?
While there is a separate app available through Android Market called Voice Search, you mostly don’t need to download and install it. Built right into Google Android is a homescreen widget called the Google Search bar.
Place this on any of the homescreens on your Android device and, once again, you’ll notice that handy microphone icon along the right side. The voice search here effectively works the same way as its iOS counterpart, including the localized search results.
One nifty little secret, that really isn’t that much of a secret, is that you can activate the Google Voice Search even when you are not looking at the search bar on your Android device. All you have to do is hold the “search” button on your Android smartphone for a few seconds and the Voice Search window will pop up. This generally works even if you are inside another application.
If you do choose to get the Voice Search app mentioned above, it also comes with Voice Actions that allow you to call your contacts, get directions, and other control your phone using your voice. This only works with U.S. English for the time being.
Voice Search by Google on Your Computer
Google Voice Search isn’t limited to just your mobile devices; you can use your voice to look for things on the web when you’re working from your computer too.
The big caveat here is that Google Voice Search is not universally available across all platforms and all web browsers. It will only work if you are using Google Chrome. Naturally, your laptop or desktop will also need to have either a built-in or attached microphone to use the voice search function.
This probably isn’t quite as useful as the mobile counterparts, since most of us can type pretty quickly on conventional computer keyboards, but it’s still handy for certain types of searches under certain circumstances. Using Voice Search for words that you don’t know how to spell can be very useful, for example, or if you don’t have both hands available since you’re cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
The Evolution of Search
It’s undeniable that Google is still the world’s search leader. The current iterations of Voice Search are essentially the evolved versions of what we had before in services like GOOG-411. It’s probably only a matter of time before you’re able to simply think about what you want to find.