Google has begun actively promoting its voice-activated search function as an “essential travel tool”, having improved its accuracy rate to 92%.
One of the ideas behind the Google Voice Search function on the brand’s app is that travellers arriving in a new destination can go “eyes free” – consulting Google without having to look down at their device.
While Google has made clear its priority is “maximising the experience for the user”, its pursuit of creating an all-encompassing app that people can ‘have a conversation with’ raises interesting questions.
What will be the impact on those many specialist travel companies specialising in delivering information to travellers in-destination, and does a more accurate Google Maps present new opportunities for start-ups?
“What Google is trying to achieve is people talking to Google in a conversational manner,” said Bjorn Bringert, Google Search app engineering lead.
Google said twice as many voice-activated web searches have taken place in the last year and that Voice Search’s 92% accuracy rate on web searches represents an 18% point increase over the past two years.
The findings include searches such as names of streets and restaurants as well as specialised jargon and slang.
Google said Voice Search has evolved to understand conversational search queries, rather than just keywords, so it can be spoken to “almost like another person”.
Bringert continued: “Most of us carry powerful smartphones and expect them to help us throughout our lives—from where to eat, to where we’re supposed to be in 15 minutes to navigating around unfamiliar places.
“But typing on your phone can be slow and cumbersome. Now you can easily tap and talk to the Google app to get what you need and keep your eyes free to enjoy what’s around you.”
There are 30 times as many action queries made via Voice Search in comparison with regular typed searches, when people are moving around.
These include translation, navigation and calculating what tip to give in a restaurant.
Travolution’s Jennifer Morris was invited to join Google for an ‘eyes free’ tour around the Kings Cross area of London.
The event was organised to demonstrate the voice search function’s benefits when exploring an unknown destination.
Here’s Jennifer’s take: “We were given a briefing on how to use Google Voice Search and a copy of the tour schedule.
“We were recommended questions to ask about the various locations we visited and I was impressed with the way the app replied in so much detail.
“I was also impressed that the app ‘remembered’ where I was – when I asked follow-up questions I didn’t need to repeat my location.
“However I wouldn’t rely on Voice Search to enable me to go ‘completely eyes free’ at this point in time.
“There were a few instances when I asked the app a question and it was unable to answer fully, verbally but instead presented a visual map or text answer.”