Siri was great when Apple launched the iPhone 4S, and had actually been one of the main marketing points of Apple’s smartphone platform. But a startup company says Siri is actually limited in its understanding of language. Even though Apple markets Siri’s artificial intelligence as understanding human speech even without special syntax or keywords, SkyPhrase says their solution is far more advanced.

The same goes for Google’s Voice Actions or Voice Search, which may be considered as better in terms of searching content. SkyPhrase is a startup led by Nick Cassimatis, a cognitive science professor, who says the company’s speech recognition technology is better because it is more linguistically informed. To illustrate, he says SkyPhrase studies language the way humans do, and not for the sake of simply memorizing the dictionary. “We memorize the dictionary to read the Library of Congress. Siri is trying to memorize the Library of Congress,” Cassimatis says.

The way SkyPhrase is designed, it should understand complex queries, syntactical relationships, and can interpret conjunctions, noun phrases and coordinative clauses. For instance, you can talk to SkyPhrase and say “Email from John yesterday saying restaurant address,” and it will search through your inbox to find the email with the resulting content within the “yesterday” time frame.

Ask SkyPhrase for “emails Jane sent me during the holidays containing pictures,” and it will look for those emails sent during the holiday period with photo attachments. SkyPhrase can also search relevant tweets, look for flight details, and more. But it has limitations, such as the inability to search within content of emails or a user’s contact list.

Still, SkyPhrase is still a long way to go, as it’s not yet the polished app that Siri is. According to All Things D, it looks more like a technology demo than an actual product that has shipped. But SkyPhrase has raised some seed funding and is likewise raising funds through its $0.99 iPhone app and through PayPal donations. The SkyPhrase team also plans to license its API to both raise funds and to expand its user base.

As with other speech-recognition technologies, though, success will require both the speech-recognition technology itself and its effectiveness in real-world applications and pulling content from relevant sources. Is SkyPhrase something to look forward to for smartphone and tablet users?

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise platforms, and is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team that offers digital content and marketing services.