Google May Find Answer for Apple Siri in Vlingo

Google could parry Apple's purchase of mobile personal assistant application for the iPhone by buying Vlingo, whose Android application now lets users call out to the Web to find taxis and restaurants with their voices.

When Apple acquired Siri in April, industry watchers immediately wondered how Google would respond.

Siri created a personal assistant application that enables users to speak requests such as "find me a taxi," or "book me a reservation at a French restaurant," and have their action items fulfilled.

Siri adds layers of semantic and artificial intelligence that go beyond what Google currently offers in its search by voice application.

But with more people buying phones based on Google's Android OS, the logical questions to ask are how and when Google would match Apple's Siri move.

The when is anyone's guess. The how may lie in Vlingo, which offers its own applications that blend speech recognition with natural language processing. Vlingo allows users to speak into their phones to access contacts in the users' personal address book.

The company has 5 million downloads. More than two million are on RIM's Blackberry platform, 1.5 million on the iPhone and 1 million on the Nokia Series 60 platform.

But there are only 50,000 downloads for the young Android platform to date, Vlingo President and CEO David Grannan told eWEEK.

To fix that, Vlingo has added a SuperDialer feature to its Vlingo for Android app that calls out to the general Web like Siri does. As with Siri, users may access the SuperDialer by voice to look for local taxis or pizza restaurants, then call the businesses with one click.

Grannan said Vlingo will add support for social networks next month. Expect users to be able to speak into their Android phones, such as the HTC Evo 4G or new Motorola Droid X and access contacts on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

Vlingo is also working on a Vlingo Answers service to help users speak questions into their Android phone and receive very detailed answers.

This is the type of functionality that would be a no-brainer for Google's mobile application team to build or buy. Google has both speech recognition and natural language processing who work on apps such as Google Voice, Google Translate and, obviously, Search by voice.

Google declined to discuss whether or not it was working on such technologies or planning to buy them. Grannan acknowledged that Google is "big enough, smart enough and has plenty of money to expand in this direction."

"It's probably a time to market question," Grannan said. "I would assume that in the passage of time that Google develops tHese things themselves or buy a company like Vlingo."

Google: it's your move.

The market is still young and voice search hasn't reached the tipping point because carriers haven't pushed it as a premier user interface over the physical and virtual keyboards.