Google wants to start a conversation

Aug 07, 2013 by Jim Rossman

Search engine companies like Google, Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, Apple are trying their best to get users to stop typing in queries and to start using their voices to ask more conversational questions to perform searches and call up useful information.

Apple made a splash with Siri in October 2011, dubbing the service an intelligent personal assistant.

You may not know this, but Google beat Apple to the mobile punch by releasing voice search in June 2008 in the Google Mobile app on iPhone.

I have to admit, I played with Siri for about a week and pretty much left her on the curb.

I'd used Google's voice search a few times before Siri was introduced and also promptly forgot about it.

I've been intrigued with the idea of since I saw its potential back in the late 1990s when Apple introduced some basic system control in its operating system. But speaking to my computer in a crowded newsroom just seemed goofy.

I got a call last week from one of Google's public relations people asking if I'd like to spend a day or two trying not to use my phone's keyboard and just use my voice to interact with Google.

I said "no thanks" to a formal challenge, but did learn from our that Google's voice interface is much further advanced than I remembered.

Because reviewing gadgets week after week gets a bit tiring, even for a hard-core nerd like me, I decided to make an effort to take Google's voice search through a few exercises to see what it knows and what it doesn't know.

Is talking to my phone any less goofy today?

Only slightly.

It helps that many of these searches are done when I'm alone, but talking into a phone is what people expect to see you doing anyways.

So how far has voice search come in the past few years? Pretty far.

Because your has GPS and knows where you are, getting directions is quite a bit faster. Want to know how to get to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas? Just ask and the directions will appear from your location. This type of query also works for questions like, "Where is the nearest carwash?" Or "Is there good pizza around here?"

Sports fans can keep up with their favorite teams even as games are in progress. Asking "What is the score of the Texas Rangers game?" brings back a quick update of the game score. If the Rangers are off, the answer will be a listing of the time and opponent of the next game.

Results and updates are available for almost any sport you can name. "What are the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings?" or "Who is the Dallas Cowboys quarterback?"

Movies are another example where speaking can bring faster results than typing. If my wife and I want to go to the local theater, a simple, "What movies are playing at the Angelika theater in Dallas?" brings exactly the information I seek.

You can also try adding a ZIP code. "Movies 75214" brings the movies playing theaters closest to home.

Even more direct is a question like "How much does it cost to get into the Dallas Zoo?"

You might even quench your curiosity for obscure facts such as "How old was Abraham Lincoln when he died?"

I've really just scratched the surface with examples.

Other searches Google offers include real-time stock quotes, currency conversion and flight times for travelers and weather information for any city. You can speak almost any math calculation, such as, "How much is 18 percent of $44.50?"

So is voice search going to change the world? Not mine, at least not yet, but I'm trying to use it more.

I realize Apple and Microsoft's voice searches offer similar features, but besides some Siri commercials, I haven't noticed any advertising push. I can see instances where using my voice to search makes sense, but I'm not ready to give up my keyboard completely.

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