The news since the launch of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 has been Apple’s lagging Maps app. The company’s face-off with Google clearly led to business decisions that hurt users, at least in the short term. But there’s another example of this, maybe just as bad, and it has been driving me crazy for weeks. Unlike with Maps, the solution to this problem has been ready all along - and Apple is blocking it.
On August 8, Google showed off a new version of its main Search app for iOS that had the best voice interface I’ve ever seen on Apple’s platform. The Google Search app already has speech-to-text, which Google is very good at, but this is something else. This is voice search that understands natural language, like the latest version of Android (Jelly Bean) has.
You don’t have to think about your words like you’re typing them into a search box. You just ask a question or speak a sentence, and Google figures out what you meant. As Google said at the outset, it was like the Star Trek computer. The live demos at the August 8 Google press event were spectacular.
Google told us the app was not only finished, it had been submitted to Apple. Almost two months have passed since then. So where is it?
Well, Apple doesn’t talk about these things, so all we know is that it isn’t out. Google’s PR response to questions like this is that “we’re working closely with Apple” on getting it released.
There’s an obvious reason Apple would sit on this app. It competes with Siri. Siri goes out of its way to avoid searching Google, because Google would get tons of precious search data that way. Consequently, Siri’s results often suck. Now, for mysterious reasons, presumably the war with Google, Apple won’t let its users have this possibly superior option.
Google’s voice search doesn’t replace Siri. It can’t launch apps or interact with the operating system in all the ways Siri does. But Apple wants users to be in the habit of asking Siri for everything. It must perceive Google’s natural language voice search as a threat.
This sucks. I am a devoted Apple customer, but I have vastly more trust in Google’s ability to organize and present the world’s information. If Apple’s voice search and mapping remain hobbled as a result of its rivalry with Google, I might have to start wandering.