Setting Expectations: Google Voice Search on the iPhone

google1On Friday, November 14th, John Markoff published a story in the New York Times announcing the new Google Voice Search technology for the iPhone. Here’s how he set expectations about the features and release date for this admittedly exciting new tool:

Users of the free application, which Apple is expected to make available as soon as Friday through its iTunes store, can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine.

The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location.

This provides an excellent example of three points: 1) how NOT to set expectations with your user community, 2) being sensitive to REAL and UNREAL deadlines, and 3) recognizing that sometimes other people (e.g. the media) help set customer expectations for you – especially when your product or technology is popular.

#1: Ever seen that Far Side comic called “What Dogs Hear”? That’s the one where the man is talking to his dog, but all the dog hears is “blah blah blah GINGER blah blah.” When Markoff notes that Google Voice Search would be available “as soon as Friday”, what customers hear is “blah blah blah GOOGLE VOICE SEARCH blah blah blah WILL BE AVAILABLE FRIDAY blah blah”. It doesn’t surprise me that complaints are flying, now that it’s Saturday:

Well, it’s Saturday morning, and as of this writing, the update is nowhere to be found. The bloggers are starting to go meta, writing stories like Harry McCracken’s “How Long Does Google Baby the iPhone?“

#2 Regardless of when Google’s official release date for Google Voice Search is/was, once it was published in the New York Times, the release date was officially Friday, November 14th. And that’s when the REAL deadline was established, because the customer expectations were (purposefully or inadvertently) set!

#3 Google might say “hey, we didn’t actually give the New York Times a release date, they just asked us when the soonest might be that we’d release the product, and we told them what we thought was our best answer.” Lesson: if anyone asks you when’s the soonest your product will be available, they are basically drooling over the new gadgets or functionality you’re getting ready to provide. Think about how many days or weeks you expect the product will still be in development, and then multiply it by three. Or ten. I admire Google, which is why I’m content to use them as an example here – they have a ton of equity with their user base, but their release dates will still be under the microscope and so managing expectations (especially through the media) is even more critical.


  • Google already has an infrastructure (though not nearly as advanced) providing a directory by calling a number (mainly covering the first part, which is “Where is the nearest starbucks” ).

    I do think that the expectations are high, this system won’t allow people to search for things, just ask questions, they just need to feed the system the correct data. The whole thing, IMO, is talking to Google’s API. People will probably ask for directions, meaning of words, and facts, and most of these are already part of the Google API (first one is the directory, second is the define #something, and the third is obvious, for example type GDP USA and you’ll what I mean in the first line of the results page).

    From what I’ve seen from Google so far, they’re good at Project Management and managing expectations…

  • I agree with you, Google is traditionally excellent at managing expectations, particularly for their R&D/”labs” products. That’s the reason why I thought this case presented a good example of how sensitive the practice of expectation setting can be. Thanks for the comment!

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