Update: I just tried out Google Phone Search. Google isn’t ‘winding down’ Voice Search in India, as the blog post claims; it appears the plug has been pulled. All one gets, is a message informing callers that Google Phone Search is no longer available, and requesting them to download the mobile application. Not that I mind: I never used Google Phone Search anyway.

April 22, 2010: Google has announced plans to phase out its Google Phone Search service in India. Google Phone Search was launched in April 2008, with human, and not automated local information support. The service was available via a toll free number: 1 800 41 99 99 99. It was an unusual move by Google, since the service being run in the US was automated. It now appears that all this time, Google Phone Search was a ‘labs experiment’, and the company was using the call ins to help its voice recognition algorithm learn Indian pronunciation of English. (Hat Tip: Shashikant Kore)

According to the blog post: “This labs experiment helped us learn more about user needs and build core technologies like speech recognition, which are helping change how people search and perform other activities on the web. It also served as the starting point for our recently launched Google Mobile App, which enables users to search by voice, and is compatible with a variety of Indian accents.”

The advantage of voice-to-text or voice based text search is that it allows for scaling, whereas in a human powered call center, your ability to take calls and is limited by the number of people you employ. Google is now asking users to switch to their Google Mobile App, for which it has voice recognition based search.

A Question For Google India

If the idea was, all along, to use it for researching voice based products for deploying on apps, why is Google shutting the call center down? I see two alternatives: firstly, Google can continue the Google Phone Search, and replace it with algorithmic search instead of employing a call center.

But more importantly, why not keep it running and expand its mandate beyond ‘Indian English’ to Indian languages? Google has Indic language search in Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada Malayalam and Punjabi, so is it not in Google’s plans to extend Indic search to mobile, and eventually to enable it with voice?

Well, if not, then it’s advantage Nuance and Onmobile Global owned Telisma, which have focused on voice recognition in Indic languages.