Yahoo! Gives BlackBerry Searchers A Voice

April 7, 2008

Voice search is by far the most efficient way to perform searches from a mobile device: there's nothing like the power of your voice. But Yahoo is doing it differently.

Performing Web searches on your BlackBerry just got a little easier: a new feature unveiled by Yahoo lets users conduct open-ended searches for anything on the Internet with their voice. That means no more punching in search queries with the keyboard. Just speak your search, and watch your answers appear on the screen.

Voice search is by far the most efficient way to perform searches from a mobile device. Even though the keyboards on most BlackBerries get the job done well enough, there's nothing like the power of your voice. Of course, voice-enable search is not new. In fact, it's been around for over a year. But Yahoo is doing it differently with the latest version of its oneSearch product.

Conventional speech recognition services limit potential search topics to certain items using very basic vocabulary, and thus returns categorized results. In comparison, oneSearch 3.0 allows wide open searches for flight listings, locations, Web site names, restaurants, news or game times. Its new methodology allows users to switch between typing and voice search at any time, and offers alternative suggestions for similar sounding words.

In the demonstrations I saw, voice searches can take as little as five seconds: one to two seconds to recognize the search and two to three seconds to return search results to the phone. Slower (wireless data) networks may take 10 to 20 seconds to return most search results. The first search I saw was for "One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California". That happens to be the location of Apple's headquarters. Not only did the search results list Apple as one link, but also offered maps to that address. Other search example I saw were for "March Madness", which showed schedules and scores for this year's NCAA tournament, as well as (I am not making this up) "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious." That search brought back results for, of course, Mary Poppins, and included links to the Disney Web site, as well as Wikipedia, and the Encyclopedia Britannica (just in case you don't know what on earth it means).

Each set of results was returned in less than 10 seconds, and was performed by simply holding down the voice key on the right side of the BlackBerry, speaking the search query, and waiting for the result. It was that simple.

The new version of oneSearch also improves text searches. It will guess at what you're typing into the keyboard based on most-often searched terms and offer suggestions with predictive text. It will also learn user behavior, so if you happen to perform the same search often, it will remember, and give you the option to select that first.

In all, these new features to oneSearch make performing Web queries from a smartphone all the easier. OneSearch 3.0 is a free download for BlackBerries and is available immediately. Yahoo will add support for more smartphone platforms, such as Palm and Microsoft Windows Mobile, over the coming months.