This morning the Google Mobile Blog announced a software update for Android's version of Google Maps:
You can now search Google Maps for Android using your voice, making it easier than ever to look up places while on the go . . .We also added transit and walking directions to Google Maps for Android. You can now get directions using public transportation in over 250 cities, including New York City and San Francisco.
[Google Latitude:] You may also notice a new experimental feature called Updates that lets you communicate with friends and post messages. Start Latitude and click the "Updates" tab to shout out updates at friends when they're at interesting locations, start a conversation when you're at your favorite restaurant, or just add more details to your Latitude location for your friends to see . . .
Taking the Latitude update first. There were some bug fixes in the new release of Google Maps for Android. However, the "updates" feature is quite significant. It's a Twitter-like feed that anyone in your network can see with location. When you open Latitude (from within Google Maps) on Android, you see two tabs: Friends and Updates, Friends is your Latitude contacts list and allows you to:
Clicking over to Updates provides a real-time conversational feed from active contacts using Latitude. This is essentially Twitter with location. But it's only within Latitude for Android right now so usage is going to be small.
Back to Voice Search for Maps. What Google has done here is imported its voice search capability into Maps. Google now says Voice understands and works with British, Australian and US English accents.
Once you launch Google Maps, you are able to call up the search field. It gives you the option to manually enter a query or speak one (the search field is also similarly presented on the Android home screen). The query results (if they're understood) appear on the map. Tapping or selecting an individual business/result then brings up three tabs: "Address," a details or profile page with contact information (including the option to see the business on Street View), "Details," which may include web links (e.g., to OpenTable), payment information and other data, and "Reviews" (if they exist). The reviews tab offers a nice graphic of the distribution of reviews by star rating on a horizontal bar chart.
While a number of searches came back with results that were less than satisfying (because of the underlying data) the overall user experience is quite powerful. The use of voice on the front end for queries, integrated with all the Maps and directions information, as well as reviews, on the output side, makes for what used to be called a very "sticky" app. Google is trying in various ways to eliminate mobile barriers to searching. Voice is one of the key strategies.
I would assume that most of this will make it to the iPhone in the near term.