Bloomberg News

Google Turns to Face Detection to Take on Apple’s Speech Parser

October 19, 2011

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. unveiled their new mobile-phone software, pitching facial recognition programs that enhance security and photo sorting to challenge Apple Inc.’s record-breaking iPhone.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus runs Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Google’s Android software, Matias Duarte, Google’s senior director, told reporters in Hong Kong today. Samsung will start sales next month. No price was disclosed.

The Samsung handset is Google’s latest salvo in the battle to control the $207 billion mobile-phone market. Apple’s iPhone 4S sold a record more than 4 million units in three days last week, helped by the addition of voice-recognition features in the company’s iOS software.

“In terms of technology and functionality, it’s hard to find a big difference between Android and iOS anymore,” said Kang Yoon Hum, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. “They are neck-and-neck.”

Google and Apple are racing to upgrade their technology to lure users of smartphones. Mountain View, California-based Google controlled 43.4 percent of that market in the second quarter, while Apple’s iPhone had an 18.2 percent share.

In Ice Cream Sandwich, the face detection technology is being introduced as a safety feature. Still, that “opens up a lot of possibilities,” said Wouter De Meulemeester, a director at I.R.I.S., a Belgian company that provides such technology. Applications such as photo-sorting can be developed, he said after attending the event.

Demo Fails

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone 4S earlier this month featuring a new camera and a faster processor. The device is capable of detecting up to 10 faces while taking a photograph, according to Cupertino, California-- based Apple’s website. The phone features the Siri voice assistant that marks calendars and sends messages using audio.

Matias Duarte, a senior director at Google, required at least two attempts to get access to his Galaxy Nexus phone while demonstrating the device on stage today, as the face-recognition technology initially failed to detect him. He showed off the voice-recognition feature of Ice Cream Sandwich by dictating instructions in English, including punctuation marks and smiley symbols.

He told the phone “I am a little busy now, let’s catch up later.”

Android Beam

Other features of Ice Cream Sandwich include Android Beam, which lets users quickly share web pages, apps and YouTube videos, improved multi-tasking, and an upgraded voice technology that converts dictation into text.

“People initially thought Siri was just talk-to-type,” said Wang Wanli, an analyst at RBS Asia Ltd. in Taipei. “Yet, we found it’s much more than that and has personality. Google would also want to have some personality in Android, and if this update lacks it, then they may want to upgrade it as soon as possible.”

Samsung, leading the Android platform in the fight with Apple, introduced the Galaxy Nexus phone fitted with a 4.65 inch display, a 1.2 gigahertz processor and a 5 megapixel camera, according to today’s statement. Apple’s latest iPhone has a 3.5- inch display, measured diagonally, and an 8-megapixel camera, according to the company’s website.

“The new features like facial recognition are improvements and will help attract more users,” said Richard Ko, who rates Google partner HTC Corp. “neutral” at KGI Securities Co. in Taipei.

Ice Cream Sandwich, an updated version of Google’s Android operating system, was designed for both phones and tablets. That’s a break from the past, where different devices ran on separate software, and it may encourage developers to write more applications for the platform.

The Android Market has more than 300,000 apps, according to today’s statement. Earlier this month, Apple said there were more than 500,000 applications in its App Store.

“Ice Cream Sandwich could provide the critical push in the race to catch Apple,” said Mark Newman, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., who is based in Hong Kong. “Apple’s software is still on the cutting edge.”

--With assistance from Rosalind Chin in Hong Kong, Tim Culpan in Taipei and Jun Yang and Saeromi Shin in Seoul. Editors: Anand Krishnamoorthy, Matthew Brooker, Terje Langeland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Lee in Hong Kong at wlee37@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at anandk@bloomberg.net


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