Both Google and Microsoft have now introduced their voice-based local search facility for your phone. This service is only currently available in the United States. Even though I live less than 20 miles from the US border neither service works here. Last week it was a little clearer. Calling GOOG-411 ( 1-800-466-4411 ), I was told that the service was not available. Calling CALL-411 ( 1-800-225-5411 ), I got a busy signal. This week it is less satisfactory. The Google service gives me information on Langley, Washington when I ask for Langley, British Columbia. The Microsoft service tells me repeatedly, “I didn’t get that”. Presumably it’s only a matter of time until both services are available here.
Tom Spring of PC World was able to do a matched comparison. In his opinion, the result currently is a draw. Both services delivered the correct result, with Google taking a little longer since it repeats the request for confirmation. He has an interesting comment that the Google service is much simpler while the Microsoft service is slightly confusing in offering more choices. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this mirrors how both approach the regular keyword search. Google has that beautifully simple search page. Microsoft usually offers search within a portal page that flags the other services they have available.
It would be interesting to know whether either or both do user tests in deciding which format they will follow. Usability or the science of creating satisfactory user experiences regrettably does not receive the attention it should. Watching how typical users complete tasks as they use a particular service or website is an easy way to confirm that the best choices are being made. Given the expense of creating such services, it would seem foolhardy not to spend the limited extra dollars involved in checking whether the users think you have it right.