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Friday, November 14, 2008, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Google voice search app for iPhone arriving shortly

Google as early as today is expected to introduce a free application for the iPhone that lets you search for information, directions, or virtually anything else by speaking into the handset, eliminating need for the keyboard entirely.

"The service can be used to get restaurant recommendations and driving directions, look up contacts in the iPhone’s address book or just settle arguments in bars," wrote the New York Times' John Markoff, who profiled Google's broad speech-recognition efforts while breaking word of the new offering.

For instance, you can ask "What is the best italian restaurant in Cupertino?," and the application should return a list of relevant restaurants with star ratings, reviews, directions and contact information. You could also ask trivia related questions such as "Who was the MVP of the 2006 World Series?"

The service works similar to the one under development at AT&T (profiled by AppleInsider in July), in that it takes your spoken words and passes them over the Internet to one of Google's servers. They're then interpreted by artificial intelligence, translated into a traditional data query, and the results are bounced back to your phone in a matter of seconds if you're on a fast connection.

While the system reportedly has its flaws, it's said to be accurate enough to prove useful for most users. Google's ability to store and analyze vast amounts of data not only gives the search giant an edge in the field, but promises that the service will improve over time as its database of queries expands through increased use.

Google Speech

Google’s voice search will make its way to other phones, but is being made available first on Apple's iPhone | Photo credit: The New York Times


The new application also takes advantage of the iPhone's built-in accelerometer to determine how you're holding the handset. It only throws itself into "listen mode" when it believes you've raised the phone to your ear, thereby reducing unintentional queries.

The new app is said to be an extension of a much broader artificial intelligence initiative at Google that has seen the tech heavyweight hire many of the top speech recognition experts in the world. Another developmental service, GOOG-411, serves up business phone and address information.