Voice of Reason

David Murphy

Duncan Parry, co-founder of search-inspired communications agency Steak, considers the implications of Yahoo! and Google's launches of voice-enabled mobile search services

Duncan_parry_steakmedia Only last year, Google and Yahoo released voice-recognition 411 services, which enabled phone users in the US to get free directory results for local services. Now, both engines have integrated the same technology into applications for mobile phones.  Googles voice search application is available on the iPhone, while selected BlackBerry and Nokia phone users in the UK can now take advantage of voice-activated oneSearch from Yahoo!   
Both applications allow users to say their mobile internet search - Thai restaurant for example - instead of struggling with the keypad on their phone. Clearly, voice-enabled applications have their limitations - Thai restaurant becomes fine restaurant and Covent Garden returns handguns - but when they work and a location is found, relevant results include a mix of web, local and map information.   Ideal for finding a number for the restaurant youre heading to and details on where it is.

Value-add experience

Although both the technology and Internet speeds of todays mobile devices are on a par with desktop PCs of a few years ago, the success of any mobile application will be based on whether it provides a value-add experience for the person using it. Whilst both Google and Yahoo! are relying on the same set of search results that would be served up for PC users, the mobile Internet experience is dramatically different, both in terms of the possibilities it affords and the way consumers are embracing it. 
What mobile handsets lack because of their small screen sizes and minimal keypads, they make up for in GPS-enabled localisation, the increasingly high speed of mobile Internet access, and push data access. This is especially true for the iPhone, which has heavy mobile Internet usage 80% of all iPhone users compared to just 32% of Smartphone owners which has generated enormous revenue for Apple from downloadable applications.
These two trends alone show that there are many opportunities for brands to get involved in mobile, which has long been touted as the next big thing for advertisers.  Googles Android platform supports an applications store similar to the Apple AppStore and both companies have made it easy for anyone to create innovative applications to extend their brand, generate income and make the most of existing userbases.   

Different requirements
By making voice-enabled, consumer-focused mobile applications available, Google and Yahoo! are acknowledging that the mobile platform has fundamentally different usability requirements to the traditional, static computer. Brands should recognise these differences too. Mobile strategies need to be carefully considered to take into account, not only the different attributes of the mobile platform, but also, the ways in which it is being used. Squeezing a normal website onto a mobile site just doesnt cut it anymore; they need to delivered in WAP format and in a way that optimises all forms of mobile marketing.
Lets tip our hats to Apple here too: the iPhone, just like the iPod before it, has pushed manufacturers and advertisers to up their game by providing consumers with a must-have, easy-to-use product that provides value-add experiences. Even with a higher percentage of iPhone owners accessing the Internet, adoption of voice-enabled search will be slow. For the moment, Google and Yahoo!s applications will only appeal to early adopters, but they are a wake-up call for brands to get their mobile marketing ducks in a row.