When Siri first arrived in the scene, it was such a mind-blowing feature for those times, that the competition couldn’t pick itself up and launch a challenger, even after several months. Now, almost a year after the iPhone 4S, we care to analyze the market and see if Apple truly has something to worry about, when it comes to other mobile platforms, and which of these so-called “innovations” can be placed at the same level with Siri.
In a few words, Siri is an unique automated voice control system that was introduced by the iPhone 4S and iOS 5 and which allows the user to give various commands to the device. The most wonderful aspect of these commands is that they don’t have to follow a specific pattern, like “Siri, please tell me the weather forecast” or “Siri, pass me the beer”, you can speak with the device as with a regular person, as long as you maintain a casual accent.
Siri’s most important features
Besides the advantage of identifying commands in a natural language, which extends to limits beyond those imagined before October 2011, Siri also knows what you mean. It translates the message with a specific algorithm into reasonable actions like revealing the temperature in a certain city, nearby Italian restaurants in a certain area or scheduling a whole agenda.
Its beauty lays in simplicity, allowing the user to do daily things at a rapid pace and with the help of a trusty assistant, which has an attractive voice. At the first sight the concept seems to be ripped out of an old Sci-Fi movie, where the actor speaks with his car and the vehicle acknowledges. Here’s a short list of what Siri can do:
- Place calls
- Schedule meetings
- Set up reminders
- Activate alarms
- Identify contacts
- Write messages
- Check the weather
Siri’s rivals: Google Now – Android
Google Now has been introduced since Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and came as a personalized search application powered by the Knowledge Graph, the database used in semantic-searches all over the web. Using this newly built base of results for most common questions that someone would ask on the Internet, Google manages to offer results on mathematical queries, word definitions and short descriptions to important items.
When it comes to the mobile world, Google Now recognizes repeated actions that a user performs on a device or while carrying the phone around. In this manner, the smartphone will remember commonly visited locations, search queries and calendar appointments, and use this information to display more relevant details in the form of “cards”.
These cards usually appear when the user opens the Google Now application but they will also leave traces while browsing the web. For instance, if you are looking for an actor, the search results page will not only contain links, but also people and a small description of the fellow, at the top.
Google Now – what you need, when you need it
Google will also get to know what your commute is, what buses you ride and what the best restaurants around you are. To offer relevant suggestions and answers to your request, Google uses the search history, calendar information and navigation history. At the moment, here is what Google Now offers:
- Traffic related information, revealing how busy is a route and what alternatives you can take to reach the destination fast
- Public transit options, allowing the user which means of public transportations he can take
- Flight related information, assisting the owner with details related to what terminal it must embark, if there are delays, etc.
- Sports and Travel details, kindly reminding you the score to the football game that you might have be missing
- Currency conversions
Moreover, Google has also revamped Voice Search and now Android recognizes more commonly known phrases and at a faster speed.
RIM’s tiny attempts
RIM is actually going to integrate a Siri-like feature in the next BlackBerry OS 10 version, but at the moment the progress is still at a small level and we only have a hint of what may be in 2013, a kind-of-late feature. This option can be encountered only on BlackBerry 10 dev alpha devices and despite the early stage of development, developers seem to have fun with the tool. More or less, this can be seen more of an advanced voice search, than an actual Siri competitor.
As seen from the video, the feature triggers in a similar way with Siri but requires pre-defined commands to display a query and can only take commands after “the beep”. This can also be seen as something borrowed from Google, with the universal search command scouting through the web as well as through the internal storage. Also, when the developer tries to get more out of the feature, the system simply jams and fails every command.
Considering RIM’s actual chances on the touch screen market, they will use a one-of-the kind assistant, so hopefully until next year the development will go as planned, maybe even better.
TellMe and Windows Phone
Microsoft hasn’t developed any Siri-like assistant yet, but the opportunity exists and the Redmond-based company may truly have a chance here. On the first look, it seems that the software giant has nothing to do with the technology, but for those that know Microsoft well, they should rewind back to 2007.
Almost five years ago, Microsoft acquired a company called TellMe which produced its first Windows Phone app two years later. In 2010, a demo of TellMe was presented at the SpeechTek 2010 conference, when the software could perform some interesting features like starting applications using voice commands and also use dictation to write SMS and send queries to Bing. In a few words, it was an early stage of an assistant, but due to Microsoft’s low sale numbers with Windows Phone, the project has been almost abandoned, although it looked good on paper:
Moreover, it seems that Microsoft did not poses the technological means to deliver the link between a concept and its concretization, TellMe usually redirecting the user to a Bing search instead of actually interpreting the message.
S Voice by Samsung
Samsung thought of compelling a worthy Siri competitor and developed S Voice, which can only be found on the Samsung Galaxy S3. Although tests show that the Korean-made assistant works pretty much the same as its Apple opponent, the features scores badly when it comes to speed and also has a few hiccups for picking up personal phrases. Putting S Voice head to head against Siri makes it looks like a low-entry service, especially because it freezes the phone at activation.
In a few words, S Voice is just a “me too” feature brought by Samsung, which does not bring anything new in the game and has quite a few issues with picking up sentences. Here’s a video demonstrating our claims:
Other, smaller players
Well, not only season companies can develop a Siri like system. Actually, Apple, Microsoft and every other player out there have first purchased a smaller firm that was focusing on this segment and then integrated their concepts into smartphones, which they could deliver.
One of these companies built Saga, an iOS future application that has the goal to outwit Siri at its own game. Although only a concept at the moment, with few of its features actually working, Saga is set to learn most things about its owner and supply relevant recommendations for the future.
The software relies on three layers to function (past, present and future) and uses every bit of information to get to know the user. The app’s beauty lays in the fact that is always activated and tracks each movement you take, discreetly. Once Saga is brought into the foreground, it can offer suggestions on things that can be done in the future and even has a way of syncing activities with those of your friends. Everyone has a great story, and Saga helps you write it.
But this is how far individual attempts have gone. Of course, the Google Play market is filled with Siri copies but each and everyone fails to deliver a relevant experience. Though, there are some titles that spark an interest and may be considered useful, by some:
- Dragon Go - an interesting application that could respond to queries such as “what are the planes flying above my head” with relevant and up-to-date information, but one that does not support Android 4.0 or above. We mark this as being the closest correspondent of Siri, because it has a great voice recognition software and can automatically open apps for you.
- Vlingo – this is one has a very nice interface but when it comes to recognizing speech, it fails on half of situations. Also, it cannot match most contacts, especially for those that have the same name or similar to others, while users report that some commands even fail to start.
- Speaktoit – this so called assistant has a few tricks up its sleeve, managing to answer some tricky questions, but when it comes to functionality, quite a few bugs are present. Ones that cannot be left aside.
- Sara – although quite spoken of in the past period, Sara fails miserably to even start, on some devices. Once you do manage go get her working, it fails to open the microphone and recognize most commands. The only thing note-worthy about the software is the interface, which is damn-right copied from Apple.
- Evi - defined by the “ask me everything” slogan, Evi does a good job recognizing basic questions. As soon as the queries become more complex, the application conveniently redirects the user to the nearest website.
- Iris – this application may be defined in three words: fund, and completely useless. It does a heck of a job when identifying questions but when it comes to answers, it fails miserably. For instance, if you as Iris to find a hotel nearby, it will understand the query but show results from another country.
This is not a close call, at all. Although Siri has quite some bugs, including the fact that it relies on pure internet connection to even set an alarm on an iOS device and once you get the phone out of the country, Siri loses its charms, Apple is the winner here. And not on skills, but on monopole. Amongst all assistants, Siri proves to provide the most services and functionality, even though it fails on some important chapters.
And by the time Google and maybe Microsoft will wake up, Siri 2 will probably be invented with far more to choose from. The only chance for a breach at the moment comes from Saga, but this only concerns a specific segment of the market, which is more interested in letting a server know their every move, rather than having someone who can do choirs for them.