Voice Actions for Android vs Apple’s Siri – Will the Better Software Please Speak Up?

by: Ronald UyOctober 13, 2011

Voice-activated software has been around for quite some time now. So, to be genuinely excited about any of these, someone must have done something right.

However, the problem with these types of programs is that you have to talk in an almost robotic tone to make them actually do something. This could be frustrating even for an English instructor and even harder for us who don’t possess flawless communication skills.

How Does Voice Activation Work?

Voice recognition software aims to make our life easier by letting us “speak” our commands rather than typing them into a device or using our fingers to push buttons. Just imagine the possibility of surfing the Internet by simply voicing out your commands.

It takes a great phone to put this into practice. When it comes to voice recognition software, the quality of the sound captured determines the effectiveness of the software. Voice activation works by breaking down sound into chunks.

In written English, words are formed by combining 26 letters. In spoken English, on the other hand, words are formed by combining about 40 phonemes (sound units). Voice activation works by recognizing these phonemes and converting them into instructions. It also requires some well-designed algorithms to predict which exact word you’re saying in relation to the whole sentence or command.

Voice Actions for Android

Voice Actions for Android is a feature which allows owners of an Android smartphone equipped with Android 2.2 (or higher) to control their devices by simple voice commands. Google’s Voice Actions for Android is Android’s official face for voice recognition and activation technology, but there are similar apps readily available on the Android Market.

Voice Actions for Android may seem inferior compared to its iPhone counterpart, but with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich right around the corner, a more fine-tuned voice recognition app is not far behind.

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

Siri Personal Assistant by Apple

Siri for the iPhone 4S is a technology that lets you perform numerous tasks on your iPhone by simply speaking out your commands. It offers an easy way of communicating with your smartphone by using technology that understands a wide degree of voice communication not limited to simple command phrases.  The system even has the capability of talking back.

In terms of functionality, I have to tip my hat to the guys at Apple. The software is quite capable and appears more versatile compared to similar apps for Android.

While Android has been good at delivering voice-activated commands, these unfortunately have been restricted to simple phrases. Apple’s Siri, on the other hand, allows for a more natural flow of commands. It is able to identify entire sentences and execute the command as such.  For instance:

  • Apple’s Siri — “Mail Lisa and Jason about the party and say I had a great time”
  • Android’s Voice Actions — “Send email to Lisa (message)”

Android owners were surprised by Apple’s “latest” Siri offering. Voice recognition software is certainly not new and apps for these have long been available on the Android Market. If the guys at Apple are seriously marketing this as an innovation–as something entirely new–then they’ve been beaten to the punch by Android app developers by more than a year.

There also seems to be some squabble among Apple owners over the application’s removal from the list of third party Apps at iTunes. It was available for free before iOS 5 was released at the recent “Let’s Talk iPhone” convention. Alas, Siri is now only available to owners of the iPhone 4S. That leaves them with the difficult choice of discarding their old iPhone units just to grab a hold of this technology.

“Sell First” Mentality

Apple has been doing this on their products for the last few years. Just take a look at how they’ve introduced their iTouch devices. The third-generation iTouch was basically the same as its fourth-generation sibling.  The only difference is that the latter was sporting a camera.

Apple could have introduced the camera even in its earlier iTouch devices but decided not to do so. This is exactly what’s happening with its Siri application. They’ve pulled it out from iTunes to offer it as an exclusive technology available for the iPhone 4S even though it ran perfectly on its earlier versions.

Parting Shots

Whatever floats your boat, you can be assured that voice-activated command functionality  on smartphones is not new–it’s been on Android for some time and it’s being highlighted on the iPhone 4S as a main attraction.  Also, the decision about which platform or implementation best suits your needs for voice-activated smartphones still rests heavily on your shoulders.

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  • Dantes

    People that frequent this site already know these facts. Siri/Apple integration is very nice
    and much more usable than Android’s solutions.

    I sincerely hope that Vlingo, etc., step up their games. Vlingo needs more fluidity, predictability and active responses.

    Android should play second fiddle to know one!

  • Abc

    According to the Telegraph review, the Android App SpeakToIt goes a long way to matching Siri’s capability – but apparently it doesn’t look as nice…

  • Gimic, fun for maybe a week then you get sick of it..

  • Lord Vader

    Does WP7 have something like Siri ?

  • I’m using Samsung Vlingo all the time, and it works great! The only thing I can see that’s new with Siri is that it can talk to you as well. Bet there comes a few great alternatives to Android soon, which can compete with Siri and make voice control even better! Looking forward to it. ^^

    • SpeakToIt… is an amazing app that (in my opinion) knocks Siri’s socks off. You can customise avatars and they even smile while greeting you, wink while getting back at you… and the app does everything (well, pretty much) a voice assistant can do… Try it out, it’s free. I’m not the developer, but I loved the app…

  • That whole review came off as a very weak attempt to make the competition come out as a wash. Just because apple didn’t invent voice commands doesn’t mean that their implementation isn’t way better than android’s. They just raised the bar, and now it’s google’s turn. I’m an android user and fan, but I will still readily admit siri looks way better than voice commands.

  • Brian

    About “Sell First”: Yes, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth that Siri is pulled from the app store, but the Siri team has talked about the compromises they needed to make to get the program to run on the A4 chip. The A5 allows Siri/Apple to create the program they want. For better and for worse, Apple would rather go forward with a very good Siri than have a compromised Siri available widely. For those of us with iPhone 4s (not 4Ss), we still have the voice commands that we’ve had for a while now (and, yes, we’ve had them for a while), but no Siri.

  • siri is just awesome. better than android

  • Emre Yucel

    Siri is gimmicky. I like Voice Actions, for example being able to say “Navigate to location” and have it give turn by turn directions is a useful feature that’s spot on. It’s the kind of thing you want your assistant to do for you.

    Responses to things like “I love you Siri” were adorable for the first few minutes when chat-bots made their debut in late 90’s, but have absolutely no use and are not worth a dime.

  • D0nt15

    Speaktoit app is the one im using with my samsung GT-i9003 and i like it!

  • capodad

    Why don’t you compare Jeannie voice actions by Pannous? Like you stated voice command has been around for a while, Integrated into androids OS (thanks Google) I think Jeannie holds a slight edge in opening web pages and ordering food on the fly or navigation (important functions) and has a good collection of jokes and games, try asking Jeannie a knock knock joke……anyway I have the latest SG2 ( Damn its big ! ) from Sprint and my daughter a brand new iphone 4s (chick phone) so its a moot point……as my wife says “you want to be right or happy?”
    Hmmm……… Ok, SIRI is the Bomb ! (not really)