Friday Night Fights: Is Siri Really A Revolutionary Feature?

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Laaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to Friday Night Fights, a new series of weekly deathmatches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

After this week’s topic, someone’s going to be spitting teeth. Our question: Is Siri Really A Revolutionary Feature? Android’s had voice actions and voice recognition for years, so what does Siri really bring to the table that’s new? Is it all just hype?

In one corner, we have the 900 pound gorilla, Cult of Mac; in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, we have the plucky upstart, Cult of Android!

Place your bets, gentlemen! This is going be a bloody one.

Vincent Messina, Cult of Android

Siri is another example of how well Apple can make a product desirable. You see, while Siri provides a more conversational styled interaction, the tasks it performs and the concept of voice actions are nothing new and have been used on Android for years. Android has long performed a whole slew of voice actions, including:

• Send text messages
• Get directions
• Call contacts
• View a map
• Write a note
• Listen to music
• Call businesses
• Send email
• Go to websites
• Search Google

As you can see from the above list, the voice actions that Siri and Android perform are very similar and I’m not going to sit here and argue which platform performs them better, as I have never used Siri, but Android’s voice actions have been in use for quite some time, so if it took Apple’s Siri to get others to recognize them, then so be it. Point is, nothing about it is revolutionary or new other than the way Apple packages it, so congratulations to them for that. I’m just happy to see the tech being developed and expanded, I believe everyone should have the ability to enjoy the convenience of voice actions and I believe we will be seeing more of them in the future. So if you’re on the ropes about what device to purchase and you’re thinking voice actions are something only Siri does, think again, because not only does Android do them, but they do them extremely well.

I’ll leave you with a video of Android’s voice actions made back in August 2010

John Brownlee, Cult of Mac

When you talk to Android fans scoffing about Siri, the first thing that becomes obvious is that they haven’t even tried it. Take Vincent above. I I know he hasn’t tried Siri because he has told me has hasn’t tried it. I also know he thinks there’s nothing to Siri. When Vincent sees iPhone owners going nuts about Siri, all he sees is another Apple parlor trick. He thinks all Apple has done is taken a bunch of existing technology, creatively rebranded it, put a wispy commercial on the air with some indie rock track in the background, and all the hipster idiots have just dutifully lapped it up.

The problem is a fundamental lack of understanding about what Siri is. When an Android user hears about Siri, they break it down into its individual components. “Siri is nothing more than voice actions and voice transcription. What’s the big deal?” What iPhone 4S owners know, however, is that voice actions and voice transcription are just what Siri does. What Siri is an artificial intelligence smart enough and integrated enough to make voice actions seem just like talking to another human being.

So yes, it’s true. Both Siri and Android can, say, place a call to your mother or your best friend is if you tell them to. But only Siri knows who “your mother” or your “best friend” is (and if it doesn’t, it will ask you to tell them their name, then remember it). Yes, you can tell Android to Google you up some information, and it’ll return you some search results that might answer your question… but only Siri will reliably give you the five biggest lakes in the state of Arkansas if asked. And yes, on an Android phone, you can get directions by asking for them… but only Siri can tell you “how to get to the nearest pizza place.” And nothing Android does comes even close to some of Siri’s other cool abilities, like being able to say, “Siri, remind me to buy some milk when I get to the grocery store” and have your iPhone actually remind you the second you step through the doors of your local Stop & Shop.

No, Siri isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always understand what you are saying. It doesn’t work without a net connection. It goes down all the time. And in some ways, it’s noticeably less intelligent now than it was at launch. But these are all beta problems, and Apple hasn’t been shy about labeling Siri as such. There’s a saying in the voice recognition community that you can never have enough data. Right now, Siri is Apple collecting that data.

As the debate about Siri shows, the big disconnect here between Apple and the competition is one of integration. The rest of the tech world still thinks features are ingredients. Android has voice actions and voice recognition, therefore, it’s doing the same thing as Siri. But that’s wrong: features aren’t important, it’s all about how they come together.

You don’t have a cake if you have flour, eggs and chocolate; the alchemy is in the baking, where the ingredients chemically interact and everything comes together. Apple makes consistent and exact measurements of all the ingredients, and then it bakes. It integrates. And it makes magic. The competition? They just drop a big grocery bag on your lap and call it a day. Which is why a guy like Vincent can come along and tell you his Android phone has something as good as Siri, while an Apple fan can tell you that he’s just sitting there eating a sack of flour and a half-dozen raw eggs.

In closing, need I say more than this brilliantly concise and funny comic strip courtesy of the Doghouse Diaries?