Google Patent Drives Speech-Search Speculation

Google may be planning to allow users to search theInternet or computer files simply by asking out loud, based on a U.S. patent on a voice-activatedsearch engine technology the search giant was awarded recently.

Google gained on buzz and speculation with the publication of the patent, however the company downplayed any connection to a pending product announcement.

Early Stages

Google, as well as rivals Yahoo and MSN, may still be far from ready to release voice-operated services to search Internet and other electronic data. However, Google’s primary aim may be improve its competitiveness with Microsoft’s Office suite by putting its many search-related pieces together, according to Grey Consulting Founder and Principal Analyst Maurene Caplan Grey.

“It’s another component in Google’s movement toward developing an entire suite for the enterprise,” Caplan Grey told TechNewsWorld.

Google does have a voice search project in the works, Google Voice Search. It lets users use the telephone to call an automated phone number, follow the prompts, and search by speaking the terms, with results delivered to them on the Internet. In the past, demos of the technology have been available via the Google portal.

Patently Premature

Caplan Grey, who indicated voice technology is already widely used for automated phone systems working with simple search engines, downplayed the significance of Google’s patent published this week.

“Forget about the patent,” she said. “Everybody has patents on everything.”

Even with a patent, Google competitors are still likely to have something very similar, and the patent does not necessarily represent something unique for Google, Caplan Grey added.

Benefits of Beta

Nevertheless, Google is apparently gearing up for the enterprise market,with something to match Microsoft’s Office software, she reiterated.

Caplan Grey praised Google’s approach of keeping its applications in Google Labs and beta form, thereby lessening the burden on what the company delivers to the market. Microsoft, on the other hand, tends to overpromise on its software and then suffers the consequences of user disappointment, she added.

“They keep every single component ‘beta,’ and position themselves very nicely because they’re not committing to anything,” she said, adding that Google also gains good user feedback and media attention from its many Google Labs efforts.

Finding a Voice

When voice-enabled search is finally brought to market, it will be useful in two settings in particular: where people cannot or do not wish to type, such as in the car; and where the voice-enabled search provides results that would not be available with other methods, Gartner Research Vice President Whit Andrews opined.

“The idea of using speech to search is interesting and exciting, because it takes you out of that search box,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Furthermore, verbal cues such as intonation and stress on certain words or syllables may be able to add meaning to a search by speech, he said.

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