- 18 Nov 08, 15:20 GMT
Apologies for mentioning another Google product so soon after the last one - but its Voice Search service could be a real winner. Only trouble is, it doesn't work unless you speak with a San Francisco accent.
Google has chosen to launch mobile voice search first on Apple's iPhone rather than on its own Android platform - which is either a breathtakingly open and platform-neutral gesture or a tacit admittance that this isn't quite the finished product, so let's smooth out the wrinkles on their platform, not ours.
You install the application on the phone and are then directed to a handy video explaining how it works. It explains that the search will also find local information without you needing to say where you are - so if you say "movies tonight" it will find local San Francisco cinemas. Or presumably London films for me.
You simply tap on voice search, then speak into the phone. The search engine thinks for a few seconds and then delivers its results - and in my case they are in pure gibberish. My first search was for "next train, West Ealing to Paddington." It delivered me some useful information about "neck strain" - but no train times. "Barts and East London National Health Service trust" came out as "bulk terminal service trucks".
Then I tried repeatedly to search for my colleague Robert Peston - up came some results on Robert Haxton , Robert Hester and Rupert Sheldrake. Other searches for names proved equally fruitless (you can imagine what it did with "Rory Cellan-Jones")and when I said "Nikesh Arora" - he's Google's European boss - the message said "Don't get that." The only two names it recognised first time were Steve Jobs and Jerry Yang - it' obviously speaks fluent Silicon Valley.
It was only when I offered up some easier queries about nearby restaurants and films that this smart new idea proved at all useful. My search provided phone numbers for local cinemas and restaurants, with Google working out that I was in West London.
Now Google does stress that its voice search application works best with commands spoken in a "North American" accent, but even when I tried my best West Coast twang, the voice engine simply flung its arms up and shrugged its shoulders in despair. Voice search has the potential to be a killer app for new smartphones - after all we're far more comfortable with shouting into our phones rather than tapping at their keyboards. But if it's to take off in the UK, it's going to have to learn to speak our language.
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