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"I don't believe that your phone should be an assistant." -- Android chief Andy Rubin, October 2011 after Apple's launch of the iPhone 4S.
The pieces of the assistant puzzle
Rumors surfaced back in December that the search giant was quietly working on a "Siri killer" project codenamed "Majel," an obscure reference the voice of the Star Trek onboard computer. As further evidence, the company picked up small app developer Clever Sense, whose only product is a mobile app named Alfred that serves as a -- that's right -- personal assistant.
Siri taps into now-public review service Yelp for some of the information it serves up. Google had tried to acquire Yelp years ago for roughly $500 million, but got spurned, so it settled for Zagat.
The obvious parallel here is that Google will likely leverage both of these acquisitions, which are probably being brewed together under the Majel umbrella in order to come up with an assistant app that taps into Alfred's software algorithms (affectionately known as The Extraction Engine and The Serendipity Engine) and serve up ratings and reviews from Zagat, among other things.
Voice and touch are the new keyboard and mouse
There's little doubt in my mind that Siri is one of the biggest interface paradigm shifts that Apple will be pushing over the coming years, especially since I expect it to be in the new iPad and new Apple TV set-top box being unveiled tomorrow. I've already made my prediction: "Siri should also be included in the [new iPad], and I'm on record expecting it to be in every Apple mobile device going forward."
As one of the predominant trendsetters in how we interact with technology, Cupertino leads the way while competitors have no choice but to follow in its footsteps. This played out reliably with capacitive touch in smartphones and tablets, which was a rarity before the iPhone but is now ubiquitous in mobile devices.
Even Amazon.com may potentially be getting in on voice recognition with its possible acquisition of startup Yap.
Voice is the perfect complement to touch, and Siri will be leading the way on multiple platforms.
A Siri-ous threat?
TechCrunch now reports that Big G's offering will be known simply as "Google Assistant," and that the service hopes to go beyond Siri's capabilities in a number of ways -- at least those of Siri's current beta iteration.
According to the report, Google Assistant will add a layer of personalization by integrating into its Google+ social network, which has provided the company with data on how users interact with content. It will be more about accomplishing real-life tasks and go beyond simply returning search results for content queries.
However, Siri does this too, in what many are now referring to as a "do engine" instead of a "search engine," much like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) refers to Bing as a "decision engine." Google just hopes to do the "do engine" better. Mr. Softy is clearly interested too, recently making the Xbox all ears with voice-controlled TV content delivery.
Don't be surprised when Windows Phone taps into voice assistants too, despite Windows Phone head Andy Lees similarly saying that talking to virtual assistants on your phone isn't "super-useful."
Google is supposedly also interested in making the service available to third-party developers to allow them to tap into its functionalities in their apps. This is an inevitable implementation of the technology, and one that Apple is already likely looking into.
Google Assistant is slated to be unveiled in the fourth quarter of this year.
More integrated than Apple? Blasphemy!
Big G's approach would differ from the Mac maker's in how all the underlying pieces are stitched together. Apple taps into Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN ) as the backend voice recognition provider, while Siri provides the intelligence and software, and third-party services like Wolfram Alpha and Yelp serve up content, not to mention the built-in Google Maps.
In contrast, Google develops voice recognition technology in-house, and even counts Nuance co-founder Mike Cohen as its head of speech technology. Android has long had "Voice Actions" that performed basic tasks like controlling music or Googling things for you, so Google Assistant would be a natural extension.
This means that Google's offering would actually be -- gasp! -- more integrated than Apple. Big G has a plethora of various services that Apple doesn't (and probably never will) and it could easily tie many of those into its assistant. Each of these services (for better or for worse) feed valuable user data back to the multi-colored mother ship in the name of improving experience and personalization.
Despite the privacy concerns, Google actually does have a potential advantage here if it can stitch all these pieces together and offer a more integrated, personalized, and tailored assistant. Just don't take Andy Rubin's word for it.
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