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Could Siri Seriously Sting Google?

Siri, the voice recognition technology on Apple’s new iPhone 4S, has attracted buyers by the millions with its ability to handle complex search queries. Siri’s personified as a somewhat sassy female personal assistant, but at least one person finds her downright disturbing: Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

At a U.S. Senate antitrust hearing in September in which Schmidt testified in front of Congress, he said Apple’s voice-activated search technology could prove to be a “significant development” in search technology and could become tough competition to traditional Google searches.

Google did not respond to TechNewsWorld’s request for further comment.

Really a Rival?

Schmidt’s statements could be taken with a grain of salt. He was, after all, speaking to antitrust officials, and stating that other companies are actually dangerous competitors with potentially killer technology would tend to downplay Google’s market dominance. In fact, Siri does not have its own search engine — its default is Google.

Also, though Siri’s been wooing iPhone 4S users with her wit, many users are still used to checking their weather apps or typing “Thai restaurants in Brooklyn” rather than asking Siri, “Should I bring an umbrella?” or “Where can I get pad thai near me?”

In addition, Google has a clear stronghold over the market with a 65 percent share of online searches. Its very name has been adopted as a verb meaning “to search.”

However, the search scene is still relatively young and evolving, especially on smartphones.

“It’s true that Siri could be a ‘significant threat’ to Google’s search business, particularly in mobile. But mobile search is a very different animal than PC-based search. Not only is mobile search used differently, it can leverage things like location and context more effectively than the desktop,” Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOM Pro, told TechNewsWorld.

Mobile search gives way to a more targeted type of search than on a PC. Voice technology has been possible for years, but the acute searches that mobile users perform are especially conducive to the complex and advanced searching that Siri can do.

“On a mobile device, you know what kind of information you want, and you usually know where you want to get it from. You have a set of favorite or trusted sources, and when you’re on the go with a mobile, it’s just a matter of using natural language and processing those requests to get there,” Vlad Sejnoha, CTO of Nuance, told TechNewsWorld.

That kind of search is what could pose a threat to the more traditional search business models like the ones by Google, and it also could change the way advertisers and carriers provide information.

“That is going to upset some existing business models. Since it’s a way of bypassing some of the traditional search portals and advertising models, you’re cutting out the stopover. It’s very exciting to users and also manufacturers of devices, who use the same operating system but are thirsting for differentiation,” said Sejnoha.

Sejnoha called it a “renaissance” for users, and though mobile seems like a perfect fit for the voice technology, it’s possible it can soon spread to other devices used on the go, such as a tablet.

“While Google currently dominates mobile search, it’s still a very new space that will explode in the next few years. Siri will certainly help Apple in mobile search, but it’s still anybody’s ballgame,” said Gibbs.

Apply It to Android

If voice technology does end up changing the way mobile search is done, Google is in as good a place as any search engine to rise up to the competition. With its Android platform, Google already has resources invested in enhancing its voice components.

“Android already has pretty good speech recognition technology. What Apple has done is made speech recognition more user-friendly, just as it did with touchscreen navigation. I’m sure that Google is already hard at work making Android’s speech recognition technology easier and more fun for mobile users,” said Gibbs.

“The key for both companies, and others in the space, will be in integrating the technology with search applications and services to help mobile users find what they’re looking for as quickly and easily as possible,” Gibbs added.

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