By now, unless you live under a very large Nexus Prime-shaped rock, you've probably heard about Apple's new darling, the Siri Personal Assistant - a voice-controlled application that understands voice commands by people who speak like people and not like elocution robots.
Analysts have made much of the voice-controlled assistant by analysts, many of whom are particularly intrigued by Siri's implications for the future of mobile search. Wall Street forecaster and Seeking Alpha contributor Jason Schwarz noted in a post last week that Siri's search capability has already been proven through its partnerships with Citysearch, Opentable and Taxi Magic. Voice search, says Schwarz, rather than browser based search, could prove to be a real threat to Google's dominance.
Android users, however, have grumbled over the reaction, which has admittedly ignored the many similarities between Siri and Android's Voice Actions feature. Voice Actions, which was first released last August for the Motorola Droid 2 phone, includes many of the same functions as Siri. Using voice command, you can text, listen to music, get directions or view a map, call your contacts, send emails, surf the internet, or search Google. In a video available on the Google Mobile team's blog, Voice Actions lead engineer Mike LeBeau demos the functionality of Voice Actions.
As for Siri, it likewise allows you to text, play music, and perform the many other functions also offered by Voice Actions. In an apples-to-apples comparison, it does appear that that the two applications are essentially the same - except that Voice Actions beat Siri to the scene by more than a year.
However, the difference early reviewers seem to be seeing between the two applications isn't in the commands, but in their functionality. Where Voice Actions only recognizes commands when the speaker uses specific vocabulary in a specific configuration, Siri's AI technology allows for a broader - and therefore more natural - range of language. Apple products blog TUAW compiled a list of sample phrases, the most impressive of which included Reschedule my appointment with Dr. Manning to next Monday at 9am, Cancel the budget review meeting, What does the rest of my day look like?, and Mail Lisa and Jason about the party and say I had a great time.
The only real sour note is the fact that Apple has quietly pulled Siri from the iTunes store, where it was available for free in its third-party app incarnation until the iOS 5 version was unveiled at the Let's Talk iPhone event on Tuesday. Siri will now not be available for love nor money to any not in possession of the iPhone 4S. Voice Actions continues to be available as a free download for users of Android 2.2 (Froyo) and above.