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Google launches voice and picture search

G22nd June 2011

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Tbrowser, Google

Google has launched its new “voice” feature on Google’s USA website so I decided to test it with an Australian accent! This review also looks at the new “picture” search.

Google has launched its new “voice search” and “picture search” features on Google’s USA website (google.com). The features are not yet available on Google Australia (google.com.au). The new voice service allows a user to speak into the search engine to perform searches instead of typing whilst the picture search can be used to find search terms relevant to a picture.

To work, a one must be using the Google Chrome browser

Part 1: Voice Search

In order to access the voice service, one needs to go to google.com. If you’re based in Australia, Google automatically redirects to google.com.au so you need to click on the “Go to Google.com” link at the bottom of the page to access the service.

The search bar at google.com will feature a microphone logo. Click on the microphone logo to activate the service. A “Speak now” box will appear. Make sure your inbuilt or plug-in microphone is switched-on, then speak clearly.

Google Voice

The Google Voice toolbar will have a microphone logo when viewed in Google Chrome

The website will automatically refresh and your spoken search terms will appear in the search suggestions panel, and the first term or phrase will have its search results displayed below.

Google Voice search results

You can either click on the search results, or choose one of the other suggested search terms offered by Google if a mistake has been made.

On it’s official page, Google says that the new service is useful for hard-to-spell searches, long query strings or when  one’s hands may be full (whatever that means). Whilst there is a large gimmick element to this technology, this may be useful for some people with disabilities such as those who for whatever reason can’t type well. The service has already been operational for mobile devices running iPhone and Android.

At this stage, Google says that “US English” is the only language recognised. Being an Australian, and with Australian English bearing much more similarity with British English, I decided to test it out with some phrases. I chose a selection of generic and Australian phrases to see if it would recognise them, and the results were somewhat surprising. I should say that I consider myself to have excellent diction, but I still needed to speak very clearly.

  • A search for “telephone” suggested “call signs”, “teledyne” and “call sign”.
  • A search for “Australia” gave the correct result.
  • A search for “ukulele” suggested “the delay”, UCLA and “it’s usually”.
  • A search for “plant science” suggested “yes on”, “yes I am” and “fun times”.
  • A search for “Coles Supermarket” suggested “call supermarket”.
  • Australian searches for “bogan” and “John Farnham” surprisingly gave the correct result, whilst “streuth” offered “New York”, “Australia” and “extrusion”.
  • Searches for “Julia Gillard” and “University of Melbourne” returned the correct results.
  • A search for the small Victorian town of “Warracknabeal” suggested “What’s the deal”, “What is the bill” and “What’s the bill”.
  • A search for the common bacterium “Escherichia coli” returned “exhibition coal mine”, “exhibition coal vines” and “associate call line” and the more common name “E. coli” also failed, returning “aight coli” and “econoline”.
  • A mathematical search for “e=mc2 returned “baby clothes in the squid”!
  • Finally, and much to Google’s credit, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” returned the proper result.

I acknowledge that this service is not intended for an Australian accent and Australian terms. Nevertheless, I still suggest that it’s accuracy is too low to be considered a viable substitute for typing.

All the same, it’s an interesting technological development worth watching.

Part 2: Pictures Search

The second new service is the picture search, which Google suggests will assist in learning more about images on the internet. (Hmmm.. that sounds like a real gimmick to me!). Just like the voice search, the picture search will only work in Google Chrome and on Google’s USA site.

To access the service, go to Google Images on google.com. The search bar will have a camera icon on the right.

Google Picture Search

Clicking on the bar will bring up a box which gives an option of pasting an image URL or uploading an image.

If you choose to upload, you can actually drag-and-drop!

I uploaded the Adam Dimech Online icon and the results were surprisingly accurate, although it also returned other images with similar colours and font:

To test the URL service, I inserted the logo URL of Qantas, one of Australia’s most famous international brands. The results were almost accurate (“Qantas new” instead of “Qantas” or “Qantas logo”):

I also tested my picture of the iconic Sydney Harbour and it worked reasonably accurately (“Sydney Harbour Bridge” instead of “Sydney Harbour”)

I have discovered that entering the image URL, and not the page URL, works best as some websites have hotlink protection.

This service really has no practical utility as far as I can ascertain, other than perhaps functioning to identify “forgotten” locations. Perhaps you have a family photo and aren’t sure where it was taken? It might be worth a shot.

Part 3: Conclusions

I am disappointed that Google will only permit the two services to function through their Chrome browser, and suggest it is an attempt to lift Chrome’s market share which currently hovers at around 12.5%. I hope in time that the services (especially an improved voice) will be supported by other browsers.

The accuracy of the images is understandably better than the voice, which really needs work. Nevertheless, I am sure like Google Search, this will improve in time.

   

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