Apple's Siri Assistant is an interesting virtual assistant application with contextual relevance, trumping even Google's speech recognition technology. But will people get serious about Siri?
One area Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) appeared to slingshot past Google with the iPhone 4S
is with Siri Assistant
, the artificially intelligent virtual
assistant that lets users schedule meetings, make call and book restaurant
Since August 2010, Google has offered similar speech recognition software
technology for Android phones, called Google Voice Actions
. Like Siri, Voice Actions let users call
businesses and contacts, send texts and e-mail, listen to music, and browse the Web by speaking into their phone.
But Siri goes beyond simple task conduction and
completion. It lends context to certain actions. Ask it the weather and it will
retrieve the info, using an iPhone 4S users current location. Or cut to the
chase and ask Siri if you need an umbrella and it will cull local weather info
to determine whether it's going to rain.
Siri also taps into Wolfram Alpha, allowing users to
access info like how many calories are in a bagel; recognizes relationships
within a user's phone contact listings; and schedule meetings with the phone's
calendar app. If a user asks Siri to set up a meeting for a time, Siri will
tell the user if that time slot is taken. That's extra assistance that currently on Siri can
provide from the user's personal context.
The Unofficial Apple Weblog has a nice big list of things you can do with Siri
. The applicability is broad, if not staggering. Google Voice Actions as it
stands today pales in comparison.
Google is concerned enough about
Siri's potential that is has shifted a key speech recognition engineer, Dave
Burke, from the U.K. to join the Android team at
Google's Mountain View. Calif. headquarters,
according to Mobile India
developed Google's mobile voice search app, among other tools.
With Burke and Mike Cohen, Google's director of speech
technology, who founded
Nuance Communications, Google has more than enough engineering firepower to
accept the gauntlet Apple has thrown down with Siri.
That is, commingling speech
recognition with context for more intelligent information transactions.
The presumption is
that because Siri is purportedly ahead of the rest of the class, and because
Apple is now nurturing it, that it will usher in artificial intelligence into
Foundations are key, but there is no guarantee consumers
will help with the rest of the building. This is not a Field of Dreams, "if
you build it, they will come" scenario. Just look at mobile payments enabled by near
field communications (NFC) technology. This adoption curve is reflected in analysts' cautious optimism.
Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillet
said Siri promises is the "beginning of a new user experience built around
context that will eventually create a much more personal, intimate experience
for using all of Apple's mobile and Mac products."
Gillet's colleague, Forrester analyst Charles Golvin, was
a bit more pessimistic in his comment:
Apple's new Siri Assistant, unique
to the new 4GS, is a powerful harbinger of the future use of mobile devices -
not just the power of voice but, more importantly, the ability to contextualize
a statement or request. However, Forrester believes that consumers will be much
more slow to adopt this new interface than they did Apple's revolutionary
touchscreen of its first iPhone.
If everyone who purchased an iPhone 4S used Siri for most of the
interactions it was intended, we would have a cacophony of queries uttered in
homes, streets and offices.
Who are you talking to on the phone, grandma asks? Siri!
You shout back. Who's she? Wonders grandma. You get the idea. This is no
surefire solution; it will take a lot of getting used to at a time when people are
still typing on their phones more than speaking into them for anything but