AllThingsDigital's Ina Fried, one of my favorite mobile reporters, scored a nice little chat with Google Android creator Andy Rubin about Apple's new Siri virtual personal assistant software, arguably one of the biggest draws of the iPhone 4S. Rubin said:
"I don't believe that your phone should be an assistant. Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn't be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone."
Say what?! What are Google Voice Commands, which offer a shell of what Siri offers at this time, for?
But leave it to the trenchant Daring Fireball whiz-bang author John Gruber to nail the situation:
"What do you expect him to say about Siri, though? "Well, Apple really pulled ahead of us there"? Not going to happen. The truth is, Google has been working on voice-driven stuff for mobile devices for years. The primary interface to their Google for iPhone app is voice. The ante has been raised, and the correct play is for Google to downplay Siri's relevance until they feel they're competitive. This is like Steve Jobs dismissing video-playing iPods, claiming that no one wants to watch movies or TV shows on a handheld display, one year before Apple shipped video-playing iPods."
What Gruber means is that Rubin simply used AllThingsDigital to sow seeds of misdirection. You don't give kudos to the competition, not when you're working quietly behind the scenes to make a product more competitive versus a tough rival.
What do I mean? Well, there are some truths that are too obvious to skirt. For example, Rubin could have channeled Google's Vic Gundotra when he said at the Web 2.0 Summit that Google has a lot of work to do to improve Google+. When Rubin writes off Siri, it's simply an attempt to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate (bonus point if you get the sci-fi reference.)
That is, Google is very much working on these capabilities AND not just in English -- Google is going to have Siri-like functionality in dozens of languages. It will be a more advanced version of Google Voice Actions.
But the company is probably going to position the capabilities as the next evolution of search, so as not to seem like Rubin was blatantly lying when he said a phone should be an assistant.
Make no mistake: Google is all in on voice input being the future of search modality, and it plans to spice it up with more context.
I see this with some inside knowledge. Google's speech technology Mike Cohen, who created Nuance, which powers Siri's speech recognition, told me as much.
Google plans to make speech input not only pervasive across all Google Web service, but in dozens of languages, and with more rich context.
Contextual speech recognition is just one of Google and Apple's skirmishes on the future battlefield to leverage artificial intelligence.