Google's iPhone voice search arrives to mixed reviews

After what some saw as a "delay," Google's highly anticipated voice search feature for iPhone got posted to Apple's App Store last night. So far, reactions among early users appear largely favorable, despite a few miscues from Google.

To the potential enjoyment of many iPhone users, Apple's App Store last night added a new update to Google's mobile application which allows for hands-free searches by letting people "speak" their questions to Google's search servers.

Google used yet another blog post to announce the voice search capability last Thursday, implying in an accompanying video that the feature was already downloadable from the App Store, when in fact, it wasn't.

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A subsequent article in The New York Times -- in which reporter John Markoff said the capability could be available "as soon as Friday" -- sparked rumors that the voice search function would actually become downloadable as of last Friday.

But after a lot of industry speculation over the weekend and yesterday about the reasons behind the supposed "delay," some of those closely watching the App Store managed to download the updated mobile app starting last night.

Actually, it wasn't even easy to tell that the update was up there. Instead of listing updates to apps, the App Store gives only the date that the first edition of the application became available for download.

Jimmie Geddes touched on the same point in a blog entry on Gadgetsonthego.net. "The new Google iPhone voice search mobile apps is now available. The App Store does not list the app as an update, and there [are] no voice features listed under the description for the Google mobile app in the [App Store]," according to Geddes.

In the Discovery Tools blog today, John Houser noted that he was finally able to download the app this morning.

"This application is both impressive in [its] own right, and significant as a harbinger of what is to come. I was able to load it on my iPhone at about 8:30 AM EDT, about four days after Google led us to believe it would be available. Apparently, even Google has to wait for Apple's ridiculous application approval process for iPhone applications," Houser wrote.

Houser and other bloggers who've had time to put the voice search through its paces a bit have found it to work well on the whole, but with a few glitches here and there.

"In the search box, I can see the words for which the system thought I wanted to search. 'Library information technology' worked perfectly in my limited testing, but the system mistook 'flu' for 'blue.' There is a little down arrow next to the search terms that can be used to pull up a list of alternate interpretations. In my experience so far, either the system is right, or it is wrong, and the alternates are also wrong. (Your experience may vary)," Houser observed.

Taking a systematic approach to his review, a blogger named "Michael" said in the Apple Gazette that voice search failed entirely on only one of ten attempts he made.

On its first try, Google misunderstood the term "Diet Mountain Dew" to be "Diagnostic." But when Michael made another effort -- speaking a little more slowly -- Google got it right.

Google did understand the term "47 US Dollars in Euros" immediately, but it didn't perform the currency conversion. Yet when Michael then tried "47 dollars in euros," Google not only comprehended the term, but gave him the currency conversion.

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