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Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 04:12 pm PT (07:12 pm ET)

Siri clones demonstrate vast technical lead Apple enjoys with iPhone 4S software

Siri, the automated personal assistance feature Apple acquired and integrated into iPhone 4S, has attracted lots of comparisons with apps or system services for alternative mobile platforms, but none come close to doing what Siri can.

Can't Tellme much

Last week, Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie stated in an interview that his company's Windows Phone 7 has included a similar Tellme voice recognition system for a year now, suggesting that Apple's only edge was in its marketing of the feature.

However, a video comparison of Microsoft's Tellme and Apple's Siri created by Australian tech site TechAU demonstrated that while Windows Phone 7 devices can in fact listen to speech, they can't decipher phrases very well and have no ability to handle sophisticated tasks like scheduling events in the user's calendar.



Prior to Mundie's claim, Microsoft's WP7 manager Andy Lees stated that he didn't think Siri was "super useful," indicating his company would avoid having its users speak commands to their phones in public, an outlook apparently not shared by the company's "Chief Research and Strategy Officer."

Google: 'Siri is a cute bumbling droid, Android is Enterprise worthy'

Google's Director of Android User Experiences Matias Duarte made similarly dismissive comments about Siri, comparing Apple's technology to, ironically, droid characters in Star Wars by saying that on Apple' s iOS , "you have these robot personalities like C-3PO who runs around and he tries to do stuff for you, messes up and makes jokes, he’s kind of a comic relief guy."

In conrast, Duarte said, "our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just 'Computer.'”

Just as with Microsoft, developers at Android are also conflicted about the direction of their criticism of Siri. Andy Rubin, the head of Android development at Google, insisted earlier that he doesn't "believe that your phone should be an assistant" like Siri, an opinion seriously incompatible with Duarte's insistence that Android is at least aspiring to be something like the always-helpful bridge computer of Star Trek.

Droid do'hs

In reality, Android is missing any futuristic assistance service like the one Majel Barrett voiced for the crew of the fictitious Star Trek Enterprise. Instead, the company supplies basic voice recognition with accuracy well below Siri's, while lacking the ability to intelligently process user requests to perform sophisticated tasks.

Google does offer a separate Voice Search app, which can respond to some basic commands such as send a text or email, get directions or play music, using the company's Voice Actions technology. However, this service is much closer in scope to Apple's simplistic Voice Commands, as there is no real processing of grammar or ability to integrate into services like Yelp, interact with the users' calendar, or remember relationships between your contacts, among other Siri features.

Other third party apps merely serve as a second skin to Google's voice services, or provide their own voice-based services, such as Vlingo (also available for iOS, making it a option for users who don't have the latest iPhone 4S). These are still basic voice command apps, not anything like a personal assistant incorporated into the operating system.

Android's Clumsy Cluzee

One of the latest Android apps to compare itself to Siri is Cluzee. Despite getting attention in press releases, it was described as "another awful Siri clone" by ExtremeTech, which complained that "the app is plagued with issues, and doesn’t have the same functionality that Siri offers."

In a side by side comparison with Siri performing five commands, "it recognized one command [launching a web search] successfully, force-closed on another, then simply refused to understand the other three."



Competitors are racing to appropriate the spotlight Apple has captured with Siri in part because the new feature is working to sell iPhone 4S, Apple's fastest selling smartphone yet. Analysts have noted that in "talking to industry sources, what’s driving the 4S is better than expected reception of its new Siri software."

Siri is reported to be one of the largest development groups within Apple, who have worked not just to make Siri functional, but also to "forge an emotional tie with customers."