Sometimes it's nice to know that the executives at Google are just as nerdy as we are. At the Hong Kong event where Google and Samsung introduced the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Matias Duarte, product management director for Android, answered some direct questions from the crowd. When asked to compare Siri with Android's built-in Voice Control features, he responded with an analogy that any self-respecting geek can identify with. Duarte compared Siri with the bumbling protocol droids like C3PO from Star Wars, while Voice Actions are more like the U.S.S. Enterprise's computer, where voice controls every function.
Here's Duarte's complete quote:
Well, we don't like to set ourselves in a head-to-head kind of way, you know, Apple makes terrific products, I think Siri is great; I think it's really hard in the long run to follow strategy of making kind of an artificial personality. You know, it can be really funny at first, but that uncanny value of just, uh, having a personality that you start to interact with, um, as you would a person, with all the contextual ambiguity you would with a real person - that's a really challenging approach, and they're going for it, that's great. Our approach is different. The metaphor I like to take is - if it's Star Wars, 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. 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."
I've often thought that Apple's insistence on calling Siri "her" made it out to be more than it is, a series of keywords hooked into various web and app actions. Android's Voice Actions is actually pretty similar, even if it's designed to act like a command rather than a conversation - when activating the Navigation app, I've often felt the urge to say, "Computer, navigate to movie theater." The idea of Siri as everyone's least-favorite golden robot, the essence of form over function (not to mention self-important obsolescence) doesn't hurt either.
Make no mistake, Siri is impressive, it's just not the revolution that Apple wants you to think it is - Android has been doing the same thing and more for years, if admittedly in a less intuitive way. Whether you prefer saying "Siri, wake me up at five" or "Set alarm for five AM" is really a personal preference... perhaps at least as personal as your answer to Luke versus Kirk. We'll have a full transcript of Google's Ice Cream Sandwich Q&A available in the next few days, so keep an eye our for more highly relevant metaphors.
Galaxy Nexus Hands-on
Ice Cream Sandwich Hands-on