Yahoo! unveils plans for voice-enabled mobile search

marcoMarco Boerries, EVP Yahoo!

I just sat in on a Yahoo! press conference here at CTIA and learned a little more about the company’s plans to integrate its “oneSearch 2.0” features into mobile phones. The three key elements that Yahoo! is emphasizing are an open development platform, easier ways to search, including voice queries, and idle screen search integration.

Sounds like a thrill-ride, yes? Buckle up and let’s get things underway.

Open Development

Like everyone else in the civilized wireless word, Yahoo! is keen on the whole “open” thing. Developers will be able to use the Yahoo! API to tap into search algorithms designed to return more relevant results. For example, if you were to search for Italian restaurants in a certain area, you’d get a list of nearby joints but you might also get data from online reservation websites that are hooked up to those restaurants so you could quickly make reservations.

There will also be a monetization system in place for developers so that their hard work doesn’t go unrewarded.

Easier Ways to Search

1s_voice_1_1 The big feature here will be voice-enabled queries powered by a company called vlingo. Yahoo! is now a major investor in the company and has exclusive rights to its voice technology. There’s a preview for BlackBerry users available here. It looks pretty straightforward; you hold down the call key and tell it what you’re looking for. Sounds easy enough. Apparently vlingo is able to intelligently work with natural speech so that, for instance, saying “N-C-double-A” will result in NCAA items.

There’s also a predictive text feature, should you choose to go the old fashioned route and type things in by hand, along with contextual recommendations — like if you were to search for Apple, it’d try to pare down your results by recommending iPhone search results, Apple stock results, or Apple computer results. Stuff like that.

1s_voice_3_1cYahoo! executive vice president of Connected Life, Marco Boerries mentioned that proximity-based search results are in the pipeline as well. It’ll be a manually-configured feature that’ll allow you to use GPS, cell tower triangulation, or nearby ISP routing to hone in on your location.

Idle Screen Search

IMG_0191 Idle screen searching basically entails a Yahoo! Search box being placed on the Windows Mobile Home Screen, for instance. The idea is to be able to launch a search without first opening a web browser.

It’s a pretty simple idea in theory but Yahoo! has had to do a lot of work to get device manufacturers and mobile operating system developers to include its search bar in the idle areas of their products or at least develop versions that end-users can install that are compatible with the myriad of mobile devices currently on the market.

It’s expected to roll out soon — Q2 of this year.