Voice-Activated Search Improving, But Still Not Resonating

Carl Weinschenk
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Siri is not alone. Apple’s voice-activated search engine will face more competition on iOS from Google Now in 2014, according to Computerworld and other sites.

The Computerworld story said that the company is planning to upgrade its iOS mobile app to make it perform as well as it does on its Android counterpart. A Google spokesperson quoted in the story says that voice search needs to be contextually accurate and conversational. Dan Olds, an analyst from The Gabriel Consulting Group, added that voice recognition has made progress but still isn’t perfect. It is an area with great promise for mobile users, who want information without doing a great deal of typing.

Gene Munster, an analyst from Piper Jaffray, releases annual grades on the two voice-based search engines. Munster’s latest assessment, according to CNNMoney, finds that Google Now is roughly Siri’s equal in interpreting and correctly answering spoken queries and that Siri has reduced its dependence on Google search from 27 percent a year ago to 4 percent now. The bottom line, though, is that both approaches have a long way to go:


Neither service is that great. Siri got C+ from Munster (up from C last December and a D in the summer of 2012). Google Now also got a C+ (up from a D- last December).

The story reproduces a graphic that reports each platform's score on five questions. The Siri section has data on iOS 7 (this month) and two tests on iOS 6 (December, 2012 and August, 2013). The Google Now report is a snapshot from the same three dates.

Phone Buff went through an exercise that undoubtedly is similar to the one performed by Munster. The site ran through 50 commands with both Siri and Google Now (on a Nexus 5). The videos run to almost eight minutes each and can be found together at the International Business Times.

The story accompanying the videos suggests that Siri is more conversational and even throws in a couple of jokes. The piece offered commentary from Bit Rebels’ Richard Darell, who said that it is “quite hard to judge” which technology provided the best answers.

Though it seems to be a good idea for mobile users, the public is not fawning over voice search. Search Engine Land and SurveyMonkey conducted a survey that demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm, at least so far:

Fewer than 20 percent said that voice search made mobile searching easier. And just over 10 percent said they preferred using apps to mobile search engines.

The bottom line is that voice-activated mobile search is growing better, but it has a long way to go, both technically and in the eyes of subscribers.



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