Services & Software

Google's iPhone app gets a voice: Yours

Google's iPhone search application gets a little bit smarter with voice-powered queries that let you skip the keyboard--something that can be handy for fat fingered dialers.

Google on Friday is expected to release version two of its mobile search application for the iPhone. The new version works much like the old one, letting users query Google outside of the mobile Safari Web browser, as well as search through contacts and narrow down results by their current location. The big change is the addition of search-by-voice, which lets you skip the keyboard entirely.

Google has found a really neat way to distinguish between voice and keyboard input. Using the phone's accelerometer and proximity sensors, it can tell when you're lifting the phone up to your face. Once you do, all that's left to do is speak, and your voice will get processed then turned into a query similar to what's been done with Google's GOOG-411 service--including suggestions of what it thought you said. This works for both Web searches and contacts, which makes the application double as a voice-powered contact search. You cannot, however, dial a result without clicking on it.

It's worth noting a few companies have already beat Google to the punch with voice-activated search tools. Excuse Me Services has two applications: Say Who and Say Where, which let you dial contacts and search for local Web services using nothing more than your voice. Say Where in particular is the more interesting of the two since it can use voice queries to find directions, gas stations, restaurants and traffic maps.

Also, early Monday rival Yahoo launched voice support for its OneSearch product, however instead of using internally-built technology it uses Vlingo for the the voice recognition and processing.

The updated, voice-ready version of Google's application will be available on Android and Blackberry devices in the coming months. iPhone users with the application already installed will find the updated version in the updates tab of the app store.

Update: A few folks, including Microsoft were nice enough to remind me via e-mail about voice search service TellMe which I forgot to mention.

Update 2: As of 4:50 PM PST the update has still not gone out through the app store. However there is now a demo video of how it works: