Google revamps search for sound and vision

The company has updated its desktop web search with speech recognition, image-based queries and preloading of the top result, while its mobile search tools get a couple of tweaks
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Google is pushing out updates to its desktop web search tool, adding voice queries, drag-and-drop image search and background preloading of the top result page.

Google Search by Image

Google's Search by Image feature allows people to use a picture rather than text to submit a search query. Photo credit: CNET News

The company unveiled the changes to its desktop software on Tuesday, alongside minor updates to its mobile web search functionality. Voice Search, whereby people query Google by speaking aloud, has been available on mobile devices since 2008, but has not been possible on PCs or Macs until now. The speech recognition feature is useful for difficult-to-spell words and long phrases, according to Google.

"In the past year alone, Voice Search traffic has grown six-fold, and every single day people speak more than two years' worth of voice to our system," Google fellow Amit Singhal said in a blog post.

Voice Search on desktop works using Google's Speech API and will be available to anyone using Chrome 11 in English when it has "rolled out over the next week", Johanna Wright, Google's director of search product management, said in another blog post. The feature, which will be released for 40 languages, also requires a working internal or external microphone.

Search by Image

Search by Image, another new desktop feature, allows people to use a picture rather than text to submit a query. Users can drag-and-drop an image into the search box or copy and paste the image's URL into the search bar. The system will then deliver pictures and text it judges to be related to the image.

The technology behind Search by Image analyses your image to find its most distinctive points, lines and textures and creates a mathematical model.
– Johanna Wright, Google

"The technology behind Search by Image analyses your image to find its most distinctive points, lines and textures and creates a mathematical model. We match that model against billions of images in our index, and page analysis helps us derive a 'best guess' text description of your image," Wright said.

In addition, Google plans to release Chrome and Firefox extensions that will allow users to right-click any image on the web to conduct a search.

New functionality in the Google Instant search service called Instant Pages preloads the top result in a search while the user is deciding which result to click on. If they choose the top result, it will load instantly and they will save two to five seconds on typical searches, according to Google.

Instant Pages is available to try now in the developer version of Chrome, and it will be included in the next beta version of the web browser.

Mobile search

In mobile search, Google has added the ability to conduct a complex search without having to go through a lot of typing.

After people start typing, they can add a suggested phrase to the search box and then carry on typing to build the rest of the search request. For example, if they are looking for the grave of the architect of Westminster Cathedral, they can start typing 'Westminster', then hit a '+' icon at the side of the screen when the term 'Westminster Cathedral' is suggested, then start typing 'architect', and so on.

The feature is already available on devices with iOS 4.0 or higher and Android 2.2 with the Google search app, but can now be accessed from a mobile device at Google.com. The company said it has also made it easier to search for nearby places by introducing shortcuts for commonly searched-for local categories, such as restaurants, coffee shops and bars.

"On the results page, you'll see a map with markers for your current location and places around you. When you scroll through the results, the map remains at the top of the page and adjusts automatically to the listing you are looking at," Scott Huffman, director of engineering for search quality at Google, said in a blog post.

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