Lost in all the excitement around today’s public preview launch of Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine, was the subsequent launch of Bing 411. This is a direct swipe at another Google product, GOOG-411.
Both are free and both use speech-to-text technology and voice recognition to completely automate directory assistance calls. GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) has been going for a while, and is surprisingly intuitive. It keeps adding features like nearby intersections.
Bing 411 (1-800-246-4411) gives you local business listings, as well as local traffic, weather, and movie listings. The voice is a little more obviously computer-generated than Google’s, but it also can get you a phone number, address, or directions. It also tells you how many stars the business has in average reviews. What’s more, the second time you call, it remembers your last request and you can ask for “saved searches.” It is a voice-activated Bing for local business searches.
I tried it out, and it was able to find the Trader Joe’s near my Brooklyn apartment. But it had trouble with a french restaurant, Bar Tabac, (which Goog-411 also couldn’t understand or find). If it doesn’t understand your search, it takes you to a decision tree, asking you what type of service you are looking for. I find this highly unsatisfying in voice-activated user interfaces. My suggestion for either service: if they don’t’ understand your request right off the bat, just bail and call 1800-FREE-411 or another 411 service. It will be much faster, even if you have to pay 50 cents.