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.
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!