Goodbye keyboard? Voice-enabled search is here

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It was an antsy weekend for the iPhone crowd. Friday's leak that Google was updating its application with voice-enabled search left many waiting for Apple to unleash the most radical evolution in search since, well, search arrived. As of Monday morning, no app had been released, but the chatter over the prospect of rendering the keyboard obsolete ensued.

 

Google's promise is big. In a demo video, Mike LeBeau of the Google mobile team taps the application and asks the phone to answer an image search (“pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset”), a fact-finding search (how big is a giant squid?), and even a local search (“movie show times” – the phone knows his geo-location). He sums it up by saying, “Faster Web search with fewer keystrokes.”

 

This got me to thinking about how the most accepted tech tools might go the way of the typewriter. Will the next generation's vintage shops have a quaint selection of computer keyboards and mice? If this seems far-fetched, let me introduce you to Grumpy Old Internet Guy.

 

Grumpy Old Internet Guy is a Gen X developer, raised on a healthy diet of Microsoft products and services. It wasn't until a year or two ago that he shifted from .Net to Open Source. And while he embraced blogging early on, he snubs new-fangled microblogging platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter. “Why can't the kids just write well-thought posts like everyone else?” he huffs. I won't even touch his sentiments on texting and instant messaging. He is not alone. A a look in the digital mirror reveals an entire generation of e-mail-obsessed Gen X-ers, whose Blackberry-trained fingertips lament the iPhone touch screen.

 

Which brings me to Gen Y. While we all fawn over their connectivity, it is important to note that they are not as chained to the desktop as we are. According to a recent study conducted by IBM, 15- to 30-year-olds would much rather access the Web from a mobile device. For them, being connected doesn't mean being chained to a desk or even toting around a laptop. It means spending as little time as necessary with machines of any kind.

 

So when it comes to e-mailing, social networking or even searching, an interface that requires typing too much is a waste of time to these folks — and they are right. Anyone who has suffered through an endless e-mail chain to get a single piece of information knows that isn't as efficient as instant message or text. And, if there is anything more efficient than these short-form typing activities, it is voice, one of the oldest communication technologies known to man.

 

Of course, large corporations are still struggling to embrace IM and texting, let alone voice recognition, as valid business communication tools. That being said, this is nothing new. Grumpy Old Ink Well Guy probably complained about new fangled type writers, just as Grumpy Old Typewriter Guy complained about computers.

 

Still not convinced? There just might be a few other benefits to voice recognition software. As we reclaim our voices, perhaps our eye-strain and carpal tunnel syndrome will subside.

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