Rival platform leaders say Apple's iPhone 4S digital assistant is no big deal, but maybe it's because they don't offer it yet.

Ed Hansberry, Contributor

October 20, 2011

2 Min Read

Apple's new iPhone 4S comes with a number of upgrades, most of which are available to iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 owners via an iOS 5 upgrade. The digital voice assistant, known as Siri, is only available on the 4S and is pitched as the flagship new feature. The heads of Windows Phone and Android, though, are questioning the value of such a service.

Voice commands are nothing new, though it has gotten better in recent years. Picking up your phone and saying "Call Jane on mobile" is much quicker than finding Jane in the contact list and tapping on the mobile number. Siri is much different, passing much more complex human speech to Apple's servers to for it to interpret, find an answer and send it back down to the user's phone. Now you can say "Where is the nearest pizza parlor" and chances are you'll get back a useful answer.

Google VP of mobile Andy Rubin disagrees with the concept of using your phone as 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."

I honestly don't get that at all. What is the difference in asking verbally for info versus typing it in? Do you think guys in the 60s dissed the keyboard because you should be using punch cards to communicate with computers, not typing to them?

Microsoft's president of Windows Phone Andy Lees thinks Windows Phone 7.5 has a better implementation of voice. With WP7, you can speak to Bing, but it's really not as rich as Siri. Siri uses multiple services to get your answer. In the pizza parlor example above, not only will you get directions, you may also get a Yelp rating, which may save you walking two blocks to get to a dump rated one star.

In both cases, this seems to pull one from the classic Palm handbook. If you don't have it, talk it down by saying it isn't needed or has been done wrong. You can bet, though, that as speech technology on the two platforms gets better, it will suddenly be praised by their leaders.

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