Siri has graced the iPhone 4S for almost a week now and reports on its witty banter, international limitations and working even when the phone is locked has bounced around the Internet. Some articles have also compared Siri in head to head contests with Android Voice Actions. There is really no comparison, as both Apple and Google took very different paths to the very different places that each application occupies in the mobile space.
While Android Natural Language Processing (NLP) applications like "Speaktoit Assistant" should be the considered similar to Apple iPhone 4S Siri - Android Voice Actions, as its name implies, will initiate a limited set of programs and features on your Android phone. You have to memorize the commands and speak them exactly. Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), the latest Android rev that is due to drop sometime next month promises to up the ante to add the ability to look up a number from the internet and dial it. The current version of Siri, can only dial numbers in the users’ contact list. Further, Android 4.0 promises spoken turn by turn navigation. However, this is a US only feature, which mirror’s Siri’s US only location based services.
ICS is touting what Goggle calls the “open microphone” feature that allows the speaker to enter voice commands without opening the phone up and crowing that Apple does not have that feature. Google may be consuming some crow regarding its open microphone claims, as Siri does appear to in fact operate even when the phone is locked. However, American tech site CNET, recently pointed out that security company Soros learned that Apple ships the iPhone 4S with a default setting that allows any random chap to send emails, texts and make calls so long as the person is in the contact list. It only takes a moment to change the setting, but based on the negative response of iPhone users for this “feature”, Google may want to at the least change their default settings. If one happens to have an iPhone 4S and wants to change the setting see below;
Despite the new voice features of Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s latest and greatest can’t match the promise of the Siri beta product. The key is twofold, first Apple decided to take on the initially more difficult task of going with a natural speech command system. Apple spends a lot of time thinking about out of box ease of use. Siri does not need extensive training to recognize a voice and accept commands, (a task perhaps too well accomplished if the CNET article is a guide)One big advantage that Android has is that it will allow third party products such as SpeaktoIt to be sold. It is highly unlikely that Apple will allow any competition to Siri.
Some pundits suspect that the eight hundred pound gorilla of natural language voice recognition, Nuance and its Dragon Dictate based DNA is a silent collaborator in Siri. If that suspicion is correct, then Google will have its work cut out for it. Nuance has through research and acquisitions consolidated a dominant position in the voice recognition field and it is the nature of the niche that the more information and voice samples a company can acquire, the better the software becomes. Siri uses cloud based services extensively and the more voice data is acquired, the better a job Siri can do and will be capable of doing.
The more software can understand what it is asked, the more features can be freed from the requirement of manual inputs. That story about Siri accepting commands even when the phone is locked? Look for Apple to introduce a Siri feature in which Siri only responds to the voice of the iPhone owner. Apple is taking the first steps to create artificial intelligence for your phone, a true virtual assistant. There is quite a long way to go before one has the Star Trek computer on a smart phone, but the groundwork is there. For Android to compete, it will have to step up its game.