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Google launches Arabic voice search

Service now available across search, maps, translate, as well as a raft of Android applications

Google launches Arabic voice search
Google Voice is now available in Arabic after the company spent weeks working with native speakers from around the Middle East to develop the service.

Google has launched an Arabic version of its popular voice service, which it hopes will boost the usability of its other products, including search, maps, and translation.

The service, which was launched in Dubai today, was developed with the assistance of native Arabic speakers from across the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The company said the new launch was a demonstration of its commitment to bringing global services to the Middle East. “Google is leading the way in mobile and speech recognition innovation,” said Najeeb Jarrar, MENA product marketing manager.

According to Jarrar, the company recruited local staff to lead the project. These local employees spent weeks with native Arabic speakers recording each dialect. The data was then sent to the US where the company’s voice labs developed the final solution.

“Voice search has traditionally been in English, and other Latin-based languages,” he said. “Arabic is a much more difficult for us to make work through voice recognition. Words have additions to them that can change the meaning of the word, or the word itself. Even the position of the word in the sentence can totally change the meaning. This presents a huge technical challenge."

However, he was adamant that despite the occasional hiccup, it was ready for launch. “We feel that the service is at a point where it works. However, it’s important to add, the service learns. The more people use it, the better it will get.”

He added that the Arabic version is not just targeted at Arabic users, but also tourists to the Middle East who may not speak or read Arabic. He demonstrated the ability of the service to translate words, and speech between Arabic and other supported language.

According to Jarrar, the statistical model that was developed to power the service is smart enough to determine between the different dialects. One of the examples he used was to find pictures of the President of the United States and the President of France at the G8.

“Our universal search technology makes information accessible to users all over the world and Voice Search in Arabic is an important step in allowing users greater access to these innovations across the MENA region,” he added. “This new service is just one more way that Google is showcasing the remarkable possibilities of the internet.”

Google announced that the service is now available on both Android and iOS. However, it said Android users require 2.2 or above to be able to use the service.

“We’re witnessing a huge increase in smartphones, especially in the Middle East,” he added. “In the Gulf alone, we’re seeing over 100% penetration. One of the reasons we’re seeing this is because people want their lives on the move, they want their friends, they want their photos, and so on. Phones are getting smarter, and this is enabling this.

The Arabic voice service works with search, maps, translate, as well as a number of other Google products, including Android applications like Google Goggles. All are live now.

The service originally launched in English in 2008. It follows the launch of local versions of YouTube in 13 countries around the Arab world in recent months.

When asked when the service would expand beyond the current six accents – Emirati, Qatari, Kuwaiti, Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese, Jarrar commented: “We’re working to make the service more accurate before we release more accents. When we feel happy about the quality of the service in another accent, we will launch it.”

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