Speech Input, GPS Make Mobile Search Smarter

WHEN YOURE sitting at a computer, a good search engine puts the entire Internet at your fingertips but that probably isnt what you want when you are searching from a cell phone. Skimming pages of Google results on a tiny screen with sluggish connectivity can be frustrating, and typing keywords on a small (or software) keyboard is not fun. New mobile search services and apps let you speak, rather than type, search terms and filter results based on proximity (on the assumption that youre likely searching for something nearby). Microsofts TellMe, Yahoos OneSearch, and offerings by smaller companies such as ChaCha may not be perfect, but they do try to tailor their searches to meet the needs of mobile users. Apps that accept speech input and return Web results are the latest development. New versions of TellMe and OneSearch (at launch, available as downloads for new GPS-enabled BlackBerry devices) let you search by holding down the green Talk button and speaking keywords into the handset. The digitized audio converts into text fed to searches using the handsets location data.

Some Dim Sum?

Results on OneSearch look and act more or less like traditional links, organized by category. When I spoke the words dim sum, the first results OneSearch returned (under the heading Businesses) were Chinese restaurants and a link to retrieve more of the same. The restaurant listings included links to maps, reviews, and a call dialer; conventional search resultsone an entry from Wikipediacame next. The new version of TellMe hadnt appeared at this writing (it should be available by the time you read this), but in a demo it, too, presented a list of businesses. Clicking any entry produced a screen bearing the companys address and phone number at the top, with icons for relevant info or tasks such as initiating a phone call, displaying a map, or making a purchase. If you dont want your GPS data to guide the search, you can tell your referred location to TellMe. It does not provide general search results, however.

An earlier TellMe version accepts voice input for directory assistance; its available on Sprint and Helio GPS phones. To try out the lookup service, call 800/555-8355 or text search keywords to 83556. Google doesnt offer users a voice search application, but you can submit a voice query to 800/466-4411 and be connected to a relevant business. Google also supports a range of SMS searches (see find.pcworld.com/60717). At ChaCha, another search service, you can dial 800/224- 2242 (for voice queries) or text questions to 242 242. In an interesting twist, ChaCha uses real people (called guides) to answer some queries. It took ChaCha only a few seconds to tell me the dates of the Democratic National Convention (August 2528). But a query about new episodes of HBOs John Adams elicited info about House; maybe no guide was on duty?

Other Search Options

V-Enable has announced a voice-enabled application for its Free Mobile 411 (freemobile411.com) Web-based lookup service for Sprint users; others can type in keywords and, if they come up empty, opt to connect

to a live operatorbut in that case, Directory Assistance charges will apply. Go2 (www.go2.com) accepts

text input only, but its menu based structure acts as a filter that permits you to focus on restaurants, movies, news, and the likeor conduct a general search. Mobile search services expect to make money through ads, sponsored results (Go2s restaurant search results, for example, included a link to Zagats site) and transactional fees (for example, a cut of a movie ticket purchase). Users need only consent to the use of their location information. Since so many of these services are new, its unclear what impact advertising will have, and I wouldnt want to use them without an all-youcan-eat data plan. But for targeted information on the go, they should prove to be very helpful; for once, Google has some catching up to do.


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