Voice activated Google iPhone app?

John Markoff, writing in the New York Times, says that Google is about to release a new version of their great mobile search app that allows voice-activated searches — any day now. Google has apparently released the app and Apple is now testing it before it will appear (for free) in the app store.

As Mr Markoff writes: “Users of the free application… can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine. The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location.”

It sounds pretty incredible — although folks like Spinvox have been talking about voice activated search, implicitly baked into voicemail for a while. Google has, not surprisingly, been thinking similar thoughts. In fact, Google rolled out voice search by phone a few years back, but found the integration between phone and desktop unsatisfactory (and probably the voice recognition was not as good then).

“This is an expansion of types of applications Google has already been developing,” stated Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. “Google has GOOG411, which is the underlying technical engine. They also have a voice-search client for the BlackBerry which is limited to maps. So this is an evolutionary step.”

“Google has confidence now that voice recognition is good enough to open it up to the full Web search as opposed to the much more structured search on GOOG411.”

Microsoft’s Tellme does voice-recognition by mobile for films or for directions. Yahoo offers some services through oneSearch.

“In one sense this is new, but it’s not new, because Yahoo and Microsoft have been doing versions of voice recognition — and so has Google — for some time,” Sterling said. “A company called Dial Directions was the first to formally introduce voice search for the iPhone, but it was limited to selected local sites through the Safari browser.”

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