The new iPhone 4S was considered a bit of a let down when it wasn’t the iPhone 5, but the new phone is still causing trouble for Google’s Android phones thanks to a little thing called Siri. Siri is a voice-based “virtual assistant” that allows you to talk to your phone to have it do what you want or to answer questions you may have. While Android has some voice-recognition technology, as do most smartphones, Siri is a leap forward in the technology.
The difference between current technology and Siri is one of understanding “normal” language rather than the person having to speak in a particular way for the phone to understand. Siri can do things like understand that you want to send a text message and then copy your text into the message. While my Droid 2 will transcribe what I have to say into a text message, it tends to require exactness when asking it to do something, I can’t just say “text mom and tell her I’m fine” — Siri understands that as create a text message to “mom’ with the text “I’m fine”. Android has had this functionality for a while, but it’s not very heavily used, perhaps the popularity of Siri will mean that more Android users will explore the voice functions on their phones and Google will have to catch up with making the experience a bit more “natural”.
Siri also has a personality, which is somewhat emblematic of what has always set Apple products apart — there’s something friendly about the products and they don’t burden the user with having to be tech-savvy. Droid phones require a bit more heavy lifting on the part of the user, and while they are much more flexible and customizable, they don’t feel as warm and fuzzy as Apple products. Siri is a perfect example of this, she gives fun and funny answers to some questions — there’s already a Tumblr dedicated to Siri being funny.
But the argument that Siri is going to be getting rid of Google is fairly absurd, the service relies heavily on Google providing the answer to questions posed by the user. If it has to search the internet to find the answer, it’s using a search engine to provide the results. Google will probably see an increase in traffic as iPhone users are sent to Google through the Siri interface.
Of course, the people behind Siri and the people behind Android have very different perspectives on what this means. Gary Morgenthaler, an investor and board member of Siri says that Siri has put Google two years behind Apple in the smartphone wars. Andy Rubin, Android chief, is being much more dismissive, saying “your phone shouldn’t be your assistant.” That sounds more than a little defensive to me.