Alternatives To Siri: Google Voice Actions, Nuance, Vlingo

Beyond some of the processing and other technical upgrades in the new iPhone 4S, the standout feature of the new device is the Siri “Assistant.” It’s an expanded and enhanced version of what’s behind the existing Siri iPhone app, which is being shut down on October 15. And while Siri is not a “voice search engine,” people will certainly use it to find information and accomplish tasks they might otherwise have used search or apps to complete.

Siri is more “transactional” than search, taking users to an “answer” or a page where a task can be completed (e.g., making a reservation on OpenTable, creating a reminder or calendar entry). However it can also take users to a list of results (“best sushi nearby”). As I wrote in February 2010, before Apple bought the company, Siri is not a search engine but you might use it like one.

Beyond retrieving information Siri controls a range of functions on the device that includes finding music, calling, calendaring, texting and other capabilities.

Google Voice Actions offers a “more beta” (not “more better”) version of what Apple showed on Tuesday. Voice Actions aspires to the same speech-driven interactivity with the device, however. After the Siri unveiling it’s a safe bet that Google is working on beefing this functionality up.

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Microsoft has significant speech assets also and nothing really comparable to Voice Actions or Siri for Windows Phones. However I suspect Microsoft will be working on it for a future OS update. We might even see an acquisition or two to accelerate time to market.

Beyond Apple and Google there are other companies that have offer Siri-like “assistant” capabilities, though not at the level Apple demod on Tuesday.

Nuance Dragon Go! (only for iPhone now) offers a range of similar speech-initiated functions: get weather, movie showtimes, local restaurants, play music and general search results. Nuance is a speech technology company that also powers the Siri app and probably has a role in the new Siri Assistant for the 4S.

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Nuance is largely an enterprise-facing company but has a number of consumer products beyond Dragon Go!, including dictation software for PC and mobile and the Android Flex T9 keyboard (very good by the way). Nuance says that its speech-processing capabilities are unrivaled and it offers a developer SDK to enable voice control of mobile apps.

Vlingo is a Nuance competitor and a company that offers a similar “assistant” product that is powered by the company’s speech technology. It has been seeking to fill the space that Siri “vacated” after being acquired by Apple. Vlingo is available for both the iPhone and Android.

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CleverSense’s Alfred App is also trying to position itself as a kind of personal butler or assistant. It offers narrower functionality than the Nuance and Vlingo apps and doesn’t have a built-in speech capability. It’s a “serendipity engine” that delivers local business recommendations based on a kind of “genome” methodology similar to how Pandora works.

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Here are the original Siri app demo video from February 2010 and the new iPhone 4S commercial that showcases Siri.

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You can see from comparing the two that Siri has been greatly enhanced and its role expanded. It’s very difficult to predict the new Siri’s impact on consumer behavior yet. In part it depends on how well the iPhone 4S sells, though Siri will help differentiate and sell it. But it could be significant if the functionality can live up to the expectations set in the Apple keynote and in the commercial above.

Ever since Google unveiled Android and it became a formidable competitor to the iPhone, there’s been speculation about whether Apple would build a search engine. The prospect of developing search technology and building an index was very likely undesirable to Apple (not that it was ever seriously discussed). But with Siri Apple has cleverly created a core utility that will probably ultimately compete directly with search.

Siri SEO anyone?

Related Entries

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Features: General | Google: Android | Google: Mobile | Google: Voice Search | Search Engines: Mobile Search Engines | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • jinnen

    you missed voice action for android ( it is better than vlingo.

  • Ladi Williams

    Tried Dragon Go on my iPhone 4 – first I asked it to play songs by the Beach Boys, and while it played “God Only Knows”, “Don’t Worry Baby”, and “The Sloop John B”, I asked it to tell me the weather in London UK, to search for Lady Gaga via Google, and to tell me the meaning of the term “DNA”, all of which it pulled off with minimum fuss and a perfect score.

    Impressive or what?

  • Terence Reis

    Nuance is voice recognition, Siri is an AI module. They both go together on the iPhone Siri app. So, not much of an alternative there.

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