Google Android head Andy Rubin and Windows Phone head Andy Lees have both spoken out in criticism of the iPhone 4S, and specifically it’s Siri voice assistant technology, questioning its usefulness and desirability for customers.
The iPhone 4S has certainly been immensely popular, and Siri seems to be at the very center of that. Siri’s quirky personality and odd sense of humor, as demonstrated by some of its responses to questions, has even become the subject of entire new websites, such as ShitThatSiriSays.com.
Siri has been heralded as one of the best new features of the iPhone 4S, and has received overwhelmingly positive responses from reviewers and early adopters. Despite the success of Siri and the iPhone 4S, Apple’s competition has a few sour words to offer.
Neither Rubin or Lees seem very impressed with Siri, nor to they see it as much of a threat. Andy Rubin, a former Apple employee, stated the following in an interview with AllThingsD on Wednesday:
[I don’t] believe that your phone should be 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.
Rubin is unsure about Siri, and says it remains to be seen whether customers will take to the idea of talking to a phone. Unfortunately, it seems that Rubin hasn’t notices that people are taking to the idea. In a big way. Rubin continues to say, “This isn’t a new notion. In projecting the future, I think Apple did a good job of figuring out when the technology was ready to be consumer-grade.”
Meanwhile, Engadget reports that Microsoft’s Andy Lees has stated that he doesn’t consider Siri to be very useful, and claims that Windows Phone 7’s own voice recognition can harness “the full power of the internet, rather than a certain subset,” because it uses Bing as its search agent.
It’s entirely unclear what Lees actually meant by that – perhaps he’s unaware that Siri is capable of running searches on Bing, as well as Google & Yahoo, and also provides access to Wikipedia, Yelp, and Wolfram Alpha’s massive knowledge database.
While both Rubin and Lees have voiced their disapproval over Siri, smartphone users certainly seem to disagree, with the popularity of the Siri service and record-breaking sales of the iPhone 4S as evidence that customers are voting with their wallets on this matter. In short, of course Rubin and Lees are speaking out against Siri. I would be too if I were up against that kind of competition.
While Apple’s competitors may doubt Siri’s usefulness, millions of customers have already voted with their wallets. During launch weekend, Apple sold a record 4 million iPhone 4S units. Company executives have said they are confident that the new device will set an all-time high for iPhone sales in the current quarter, which ends in December.
I’d speak out too if I were up against the iPhone 4S’s record-breaking popularity.
Andy Rubin, head of Google’s Android operating system, doesn’t think Apple is on the right track with its Siri technology. In an interview with AllThingsD following his appearance at AsiaD, Mr. Rubin told the site that phones should be used for talking to other people, not as your personal assistant.
“I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant,” Mr. Rubin said. “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.”
Android will not be your slave!
He also said that voice command on smartphones, “isn’t a new notion. In projecting the future, I think Apple did a good job of figuring out when the technology was ready to be consumer-grade.”
What is most ironic about this is that until the release of Siri on Apple’s new iPhone 4S, Android offered the most advanced voice command features in the smartphone market. The company’s Voice Actions for Android allow Android users to send text messages, get directions, call contacts, view a map, write a note, listen to music, call businesses, send e-mail, go to websites, and search Google
When introduced, those features were quite impressive and far ahead of anything that could be done with an iPhone in the way of voice command. Indeed, Google Voice Actions is still impressive, it’s just not as impressive as Siri, which does everything Google Voice Actions does, and then some, and it allows the use of natural language to get it done.
In other words, it’s passing strange that Mr. Rubin would denigrate the idea of your phone becoming your assistant when Google itself was (and is) heading down that same path. Such is the nature of competition, however, and as we have often discussed, no less a personage than the late Steve Jobs was better at putting down features or services where Apple didn’t compete and then singing their praises once Apple was ready to enter that market (“It’s about the music, stupid”).
The reality is that Siri leapfrogged Voice Actions for Android, and it remains to be seen if Google will be able to catch up to Siri, let alone leapfrog it. Siri is backed by several key patents, and Apple has licensed Nuance’s speech recognition technology, which is also protected by some very powerful patents owned by that company.
Still, it would never do to discount Google. The company has vast resources, amazing server capacity, and a host of very bright and talented engineers. As consumers, we would all come out winners if Google decided to go to war with Apple over voice commands, pushing each other to innovate in the process. If we’re lucky, that’s what Mr. Rubin’s dismissal really means.