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Apple Needs to Move Siri From Beta to Indispensable

By Chris Neiger - Apr 3, 2013 at 8:30PM

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Apple may have been the first to launch a smartphone personal assistant a few years back, but the company is about to face increased competition in the space.

Recent postings on Apple's (AAPL -2.46%) jobs site show the company is looking to hire 12 new Siri developers -- and it may be just in time. With Apple's increased competition with Samsung and others, it's not surprising the company may be looking to its personal assistant more indispensable.

Over the past few years, Siri has become an integral part Apple's iOS, and although it has had some setbacks, it's still arguably one Apple's most innovative mobile features. But others have begun to catch up to Siri's functionality -- some even surpass it.

Source: Apple.

When Samsung launched its new Galaxy S4, the company came up with the tag line "life companion" for the phone and touted the S Voice feature. Similar to Siri, Samsung's S Voice allows users to use voice commands to ask questions, place calls, and send texts. In comparison tests by The Christian Science Monitor, S Voice on the Galaxy S III was competitive with Siri, and even outperformed it at times.

The next contender, although not a voice personal assistant, is Google's (GOOGL -1.35%) new Android app Google Now. Google Now offers calendar reminders, location-based traffic updates and other time-sensitive information. The app was the recent source of a little controversy between Apple and Google. Google said the app wasn't available on the iPhone yet because Apple hadn't approved it, meanwhile Apple said the app was never sent to App Store for approval.

Apple's strength in the personal assistant arena lies with its first-mover advantage in the space -- particularly in the automotive industry. Apple is working with about a dozen automotive companies to integrate Siri into cars, dubbing it "Eyes Free." When Siri is paired to the car via Bluetooth, drivers can ask Siri for directions, make phone calls, send and read texts, play music, and ask questions that don't require a web browser to open.

Source: Apple.

Apple's move into the automotive space is just another way it's trying to keep current iPhone users hooked on Siri. The company needs to fill in niches like the automotive market to prove to smartphone users that it's an indispensable feature.

But Android phones are making a move into autos as well, through the use of Nuance Communications' (NUAN) voice technology. Nuance already works with over a dozen car companies to bring voice controls into cars, and some smartphone makers like ZTE are working with Nuance to bring car-ready voice integration to their devices. Nuance is currently developing a personal assistant of its own that has yet to be released, which has led to some speculation in the tech world that Apple may purchase the company to eliminate further competition.

With Apple opening up 12 new spots for Siri developers, it may be a sign that Apple recognizes the personal assistant competition is heating up. Given that iOS 7 is likely to launch this summer, it may be the right time for Apple to bring some major enhancements to Siri and leapfrog any headway the competition has already made.

Though the company was the first to launch a fully integrated smartphone personal assistant, Apple really needs to stay ahead of the curve in this area. Apple needs to get Siri into enough spaces, like the car and eventually the living room, and make the feature so integrated with daily life that users won't want to use devices without it. But until then, it seems the personal assistant space is up for grabs.

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