Arabic speakers can now ask Google for directions out loud - unless, it appears, they are going to Al Ain.
The internet search company yesterday demonstrated its Arabic-language voice search function, which allows users to speak into their phones to perform searches and use other services such as Google Maps. One million Arabic words in six accents were sampled to create the technology, according to Najeeb Jarrar, Google's product marketing manager in the Middle East and North Africa.
"We wanted users to be able to do voice search with their accents," he said. "We collected more than a million words". In a demonstration of the new technology given to the media in Dubai, Google's software successfully recognised the word "marhaba", which means "hello" or "welcome" in Arabic. Google Maps also recognised the phrase "Burj Khalifa".
However, it did not immediately recognise the place name "Al Ain" in the demonstration of the software. Mr Jarrar acknowledged the software was not perfect, but said it would improve. "With more usage it's going to go further," he said.
The Arabic voice search function was officially announced yesterday, having gone live on Monday, for users of certain Android and Apple iPhone handsets. Other technology allows users of Android phones to take a picture of almost any text - a restaurant menu, for example - and have it translated into Arabic.
The Arabic voice search function uses Google's "speech recognition technology", which was launched in other languages in 2008. The Arabic launch is compatible with accents from the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt, Mr Jarrar said.
"In the past year and a half, we've been increasing our investment in the region, we're pushing more products," he added.
Google's launch of the Arabic voice search comes at a time of heightened interest in voice-recognition technology.
Apple, one of Google's biggest rivals, recently unveiled Siri, an "intelligent" software assistant that can recognise and respond to certain voice commands.