Google Now wipes the floor with Siri

Google’s Hugo Barra has been telling Wired why Google’s voice activated search cleans Apple’s clock.

Dubbed Google Now it will be a key part of the new Android version called Jelly Bean.

What it appears is that Apple might have bitten off more than it can chew when it stumbled into Google’s home turf of search. There are criticisms about Siri, mostly that it does not work. And it can’t search particularly well.

Google Now is based on the idea of “one boxes” where Google presents information to you on top of search results. All it needed to do was tart up the concept and make it more appropriate for mobile devices and giving it a significant amount of visual polish.

Barra said that if punters ask a question for which a specific answer or a small set of specific answers exist, you’re likely wanting to see that specific answer. Instead Google serves that answer up on an information card. This makes things a lot more accurate.

If you tart it up even more, by using a voice you have to look at how you are using the search, he said.

There’s a significant chance you’re in a somewhat constrained environment like being on the run, in a car or carrying something so you can’t look at your screen or type.

So it needed a text-to-speech engine that was extremely high quality.

It used a text-to-speech engine that’s networked-based, meaning it uses a very large amount of data to compose a spoken answer. So the calculation work is taken off of the phone.

The hardest part was finding a person who has a voice that works with the user and the machine, Barra said.

Then a bunch of designers, engineers and speech scientists sat down and tried to describe the personality of the person, the personality of the voice that Google wanted to create.

There were ten actors chosen and then a focus group tested the voice.

Barra did not know who she was and would keep her identity secret anyway because she is supposed to be the voice of Google.

The search does not have a lot of personality and does not tell jokes. Apparently that was deliberate because Google sees itself as a neutral party rather than being your friend, secretary or sister.