Google is targeting Siri with a major update to its iOS search application that will see voice search understand the user's intension, not just keywords.

Google iOS search

As part of several new updates to its search services, the app - which is already available for Android devices - will soon be available on iPhone and iPad as a rival to Apple's Siri personal assistant.

Understanding the intent of the user means that the app can provide - and say out loud - results for statements like "I need a mechanic" and "What films are on this weekend?" In each case, the app will return results local to you, with links to appropriate services.

With a user interface that is similar to Siri, the user presses a microphone icon, says their request, and if the phone can offer an answer it will say it outloud, while providing links, maps or whatever extra information it thinks you will need.

Google's vice president of search, Amit Singhal, said on the company blog: "Often the most natural way to ask a question is by asking aloud. So we've combined our speech recognition expertise, understanding of language and the Knowledge Graph so that Voice Search can better interpret your questions and sometimes speak the answers back as full sentences."

As with Siri, the user can ask questions in the same way we speak to humans, so questions like "What's the weather going to be like in London?" will be answered by a brief weather forecast, both with text and images as well as spoken out loud by the app.

Google will have no doubt seen Siri as a threat to its search business, as results can be found and displayed without the user needing to visit Google at all - it will be interesting to see if iOS users will opt for Google search over Siri when the update arrives.

The update shows that, despite dominating the search market, Google is not willing to rest on its laurels and is keen to develop new features, such as integrating Gmail with search.

Looking forward, but admitting that developing new features takes time, Singhal said: "These are baby steps, but important ones on our way to building the search engine of the future-one that is much more intelligent and useful than it was just a few years ago. It's a very exciting time to be working in this field."

Apple is working on improving its voice search, with major updates coming to Siri with the iOS 6 operating system due out in the autumn.