Are You Siri-us About Speech Recognition?

The new iPad is here! Yes, it's apparently called "the new iPad," which seems like the dumbest name for a device since "iPad." One of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad upgrades includes voice dictation, which is not the same as Siri, the speech-activated intelligent assistant found in the iPhone 4S. Some, including the Fool's own Evan Niu, expected Siri to have a bigger part to play in Apple's post-4S plans.

Apple doesn't make major design decisions lightly, and Siri can rightly be counted in that category, whether included or not. After the hype that followed its 4S unveiling, I wondered if this supposedly revolutionary feature could ever live up to its prime billing, but data remain sparse. Apple is, of course, notoriously tight-lipped, so there's little information to be found beyond iPhone 4S sales figures. However, the few surveys that have made note of Siri tend to give it very positive marks.

Survey says
A Loopt survey of 4S first adopters found that those waiting to buy (this was just prior to launch) most wanted to play with Siri, beating out the upgraded camera 2-to-1. A November survey of iPhone 4S users found that Siri was the single best-liked feature in the smartphone, beating out iOS' ease of use and the upgraded camera. It's tough to say that either survey had the necessary scientific rigor to be accepted without question, but it seems that Siri has been a draw so far.

Getting crowded in here
But will Siri be able to stay ahead of the game? All of Cupertino's chief tech competitors have, or are in the process of polishing, their own voice-recognition assistants. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) appears to have picked up a voice-recognition start-up of its own. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) is bundling voice control into its push for Xbox living room dominance.

Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) had voice recognition in Android for years, and the company's now putting the finishing touches on "Google Assistant." This appears to be a more integrated software package than Siri, as the latter still relies on Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN  ) for its speech recognition technology. All of Apple's competitors have a greater breadth of data and content to integrate with their planned services, and Google even has one of Nuance's co-founders on staff. By contrast, Siri's co-founder left Apple late last year.

Points to ponder
There are always positives in any semantic technology, which helps machines discern the meaning in the strange, evolving, complicated soup of words that we turn into natural languages. But is such a function enough to set any company apart over the long run? Apple's iPad Siri exclusion seems to make the case that it's not, but the technology is still evolving.

My own view tends toward voice control as a complement to touch control, with gestures taking a supplementary role. I like to use the "walking down the street" test. How ridiculous would you look using a given control scheme? Talking to yourself (think Bluetooth headsets) is already fairly common, so it's not a stretch to see a Star Trek-style living room or office, featuring a blend of voice command and tablet-style control schemes across multiple devices. As the technology matures, it may very well become standardized, the way a mouse does the same thing on any computer, despite minor functional differences that have evolved over time.

But what do you think, readers? Let your voice be heard by voting in the poll below!

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Amazon.com, Google, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Nuance Communications. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2012, at 5:54 PM, vv234 wrote:

    I think there are strong business, usability and technical reasons for not including Siri in the new iPad or any tablet devices. From the business point of view, Apple has every reason to make iPad and iPhone as unique as possible to give consumers more reasons to own both. In terms of usability, Siri or any voice assistant technology is a natural tool or interface for smart phones given the fact that phones are supposed to be used for voice communications. IPad and tablets in general are used mostly for entertainment and other content consumption. Sure voice based search or navigation or interface is nice to have and can make better user experience. But you do not need the full power or complexity and associated cost of Siri. Technically, if an iPad is shared among family and friends, it's very difficult to train Siri to recognize multiple voices in order to give users better responses, among many other reasons.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2012, at 8:33 AM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    @ vv234 -

    You make good points. As I said, it's still an evolving technology, so what's right in one situation may be inappropriate for another.

    I'm impressed by the voting participation so far. Over 300 votes! Keep it up, folks.

    - Alex

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2012, at 9:17 AM, mikecart1 wrote:

    Voice recognition will always be slower than doing the task yourself manually. Voice recognition requires way too much data spec to become 100% reliable or even close to it. Everyone has a different voice and accent like their fingerprints. True voice recognition software will have to be created when technology improves a lot more than it is today. Basically you can't create it truly unless you have a super computer.

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