Market Leaders: Mobile Voice Search

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Speech Technology launched the Mobile Voice Search category in 2009 to meet the emerging mass market of smartphone users and growing potential for truly multimodal, mobile, voice-powered search. At the time, clear market leaders hadn’t really emerged in what was an essentially nascent space. The same is true this year, but the standings from last year more or less remain the same, and trends are emerging. There has been a bit of a shake-up in the market as of late, though, with Apple making a direct challenge to Google with its Siri acquisition. Why Apple would want to sink money into the mobile search market is obvious.

According to eMarketer, mobile search advertising will be worth $715 million, or 15 percent of the overall mobile advertising market, by 2011. eMarketer is also expecting the mobile Internet user base to grow by another 10 million people during the next year to around 64.8 million. For mobile voice vendors, that could mean a lot of burlap sacks emblazoned with dollar signs and stuffed with cash not too far off in the future.


Back from last year is Vlingo, which—again—was only barely inched out by Google for the top spot. Vlingo saw high marks for the number of devices its platform supports and good numbers for speed and accuracy. It faltered, however, when it came to user interface (what we were calling “multimodal integration” last year). Still, Vlingo remains a favorite—particularly among speech technologists—and many feel it’s as good as Google, especially given that it can be powered by Google’s Web search engine and has strong recognition capabilities.

New to the pack this year is Yahoo! Mobile, which garnered fairly decent scores across the board, but had some trouble in the user interface category. The company received some good news in March when AT&T announced it would be the default search engine on AT&T’s new handset. Bad news, however, followed the same week when T-Mobile announced it would be dropping Yahoo! in favor of Google to power its T-Mobile portal. Yahoo! has made the mobile space somewhat of a focus and has been hoping to regain the huge swaths of ground it lost to Google in the traditional Web search space. Whether it can pull that off, though, remains to be seen.


The winner this year, for the second time, is Google. Google dominates the traditional Web search space and could be poised to lord similarly over the mobile segment as well, in no small part because of its name recognition and existing reach into so many facets of the online experience. As one analyst described it, “Google Voice is pretty much just Google with a microphone strapped on.” That summary might sound flip, but from a mindshare perspective it holds true. Users who tend to reach for Google in one place are likely to do the same in another. When this is combined with strong customer satisfaction numbers and good accuracy, it makes for a very powerful contender for market leader. If there are any complaints about Google’s service—and there was only one consistent one—then it’s that it tends to run rather slowly. Its mobile search was rated as one of the slowest of the bunch, but as one analyst put it, “It’s better to get better results more slowly than worse ones more quickly.” 


In April, Apple acquired mobile application developer Siri, ostensibly in an attempt to compete more directly with Google’s Android platform. Many analysts think Apple will use its broad base of iPhone users to springboard a default-set proprietary search service and, hopefully for Apple, capture a nice slice of the associated ad revenue. Some analysts and consultants remain skeptical, however. Deborah Dahl, principal at Conversational Technologies, thinks Apple might have come late to the acquisition game and that firms like Microsoft and Google might have a better shot long term. Apple/Siri scored decently in user interface and customer satisfaction. Where it lost points was in the number of devices its supports and the speed with which it returns results. Of the vendors looked at for this award, our judges ranked it among the slowest. With the recent Apple acquisition, however, that could change by next year.

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