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Google Targets Voice Searches RRS feed

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  • From "The Wall Street Journal"

     

     

    Google Targets Voice Searches

    Service Helps Users
    Find Businesses;
    Rivaling Microsoft
    By DON CLARK
    April 12, 2007; Page B3

    Google Inc. appears headed for a battle with Microsoft Corp. and others over voice-based search technology, which can take the place of conventional directory assistance and offer new benefits for mobile-phone users.

    The Web-search titan, based in Mountain View, Calif., released a free experimental service last week called Google Voice Local Search. It allows users to dial a number -- 1-800-GOOG-411 -- and search for businesses in specific cities, using technology that recognizes what callers say.

    Google's test comes less than a month after Microsoft announced plans to buy Tellme Networks Inc. for a price that people familiar with the matter put at $800 million. The closely held Silicon Valley company specializes in services that combine voice-recognition technology with the Web, and already provides automated directory-assistance services for AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC.

    Another Web titan, Yahoo Inc., could also soon enter the race, which is largely inspired by the huge opportunity to sell ads that will run on mobile phones -- and by the fact that Google doesn't dominate that business, as it does for searches that use computers.

    Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., in January launched a cellphone-search service called oneSearch that requires people to type queries into a handset browser or to send text messages. But Yahoo officials say spoken queries could eventually become an option; two executives from Tellme recently joined Yahoo.

    "We do believe that voice technology in the mobile space will play a very important role," said Marco Boerries, who holds the title at Yahoo of senior vice president for connected life.

    Until recently, voice recognition has mainly been used by telephone carriers and companies to lower their costs by reducing the need for live operators. Recently, that technology also has been used by some new entrants to provide free, ad-supported alternatives to paid directory assistance, such as Jingle Networks Inc.'s 1-800-FREE411 service.

    The latest push by technology companies is also designed to make voice-based searches better, not just less expensive.

    Google's experimental service, like the Web, can work even if callers don't know the name of a business they want. A user can ask about a type of business, such as a coffee shop, and specify an intersection or ZIP Code. The service will read off a list of nearby businesses that fit the criteria.

    Another step, being pushed by Tellme in a service it has been testing, is to let users start with a spoken query, but display the results from that question on the display screen of their handset. Besides the name of a pizza shop, for example, a user could instantly see a map to it. That capability, which requires software downloaded to a handset, could also ultimately help the user complete a transaction, such as order a pizza.

    "Voice is a great way to input information," said Angus Davis, a Tellme co-founder. "It's not always the best way to get output."

    Combining other kinds of information also can improve searches. Verizon, using technology from start-up Medio Systems Inc., allows users to speak the name of ringtones, games or other things they want to buy. The technology can guess whether callers are interested in, say, the weather in Seattle or a band called Weather in Seattle by analyzing their past searches, said Brian Lent, Medio founder and chief executive.

    Microsoft, besides mobile search, says it plans to use Tellme technology to add voice input for many products, including computers and hand-held devices. A spokeswoman for Google said, "having quick, free access to local business information over the phone may prove to be very valuable to our end users."

    Friday, April 13, 2007 11:05 AM