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.

Check out our hands-on looks at the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich below:

Galaxy Nexus Hands-on

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Ice Cream Sandwich Hands-on

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  1. i dont care what anyone says, the mytouch4g i have is very fast, takes my commands great, dictation is very good, and best of all unlike all my iphony friends, my calls are never dropped…. and they dont sound like they are talking to you thru a straw….

  2. How does this make any sense…Siri does everything that voice commands does plus more…for a company that believes that their customers should be giving choices, they think they’ve successfully deceived their followers into thinking that the concepts that are futuristic are unnecessary…if concepts like hardware acceleration, digital assitants and UI continuity a futuristic, then please ios and WP7 should hurry up and crush this “open” java based operating system…

    • They just have a different prespective on how humans should interact with their devices. Additionally no operating system should be “crushed”. I was sad when WebOS got the can,and more operating systems create more competition and thus exponentially more Innovation. So your troll like comment is not helpful to any discussion here.

      • You’re right…I apologise for my troll-like comment…I do have a right to express my annoyance, but probably shouldn’t abuse it the way I did….and yes, I shared similar sadness as well, when HP announced that they would no longer continue to offer webOS related services…more operating systems do create competition, but sometimes, there needs to be a little bit clarity or distinction between systems…sometimes that would mean dissolving or dissolution…again, I’m just expressing a slight irk, not an absolute standpoint I have…

    • The reason it makes sense is because Apple leaves no choices other than itself. In order to use Siri, you have to have Apple’s latest and greatest Iphone 4S. In comparison, you can use Voice Actions on almost any version of the Android. Yes, Apple has dumped loads of time and money into Siri, but in order to use it,  you still have to deal with Apple’s restrictive platform that only allows Apple approved programs to be installed. Yes, Siri is impressive, but it should be for the amount of time and money Apple has dumped into it. The beauty of Google’s open sourced operating system is that anyone can write for it and eventually the many will outperform and be more versatile than the one.

      • You do realise that voice commands have been available since even on the original iPhone…Siri is different from voice control…Also, there’s a formal explanation explaining a reason why Siri isn’t on any other iPhone besides the 4S…I don’t think its a good enough reason but knowing apple, if a device isn’t able to fully take advantage of a feature, than apple removes the feature completely…

  3. ““Siri, wake me up at five” or “Set alarm for five AM” is really a personal preference”
    I am an Android fan, but Siri is impressive.  The problem is that with IOS, in this situation, it is a preference, and with Android, it isn’t.  Siri would accept both commands, Android would not.

    • Googles Voice Actions is just the foundation. They’ve allowed the third party developers to do the refining. There are plenty of Siri competitors out there in the Android Market right now. Siri IS more polished. Its just better integrated into the OS. Some android apps are coming along though.

      To me, these are still novelty apps– good mostly for goofing off. But there are use cases where they come in very handy and I’m glad they’re there.

      My personal recommendation: Voice Actions by Pannous. They’re constantly updating and trying to improve the product. I cannot say enough good things about their team. If you’ve got a question or issue they respond quickly and accurately. Plus the app is really coming along nicely.

      • Actually, I tried Pannous, and I would not recommend it.  I had to yell at it to find me the correct location of Exit on 210 Freeway in LA – like 10 times before I gave up (plus its not very intuitive at all).  For those who says that Siri is just “one of many” voice command app in the market, I beg to differ.  Siri is a result of over 15 years of voice command funded by Apple to Stanford Research Institute (SIRI) – and Apple has been guiding the development since 1997 – and 2003 company launch as well with investors from Chung Kong Group.  Afterall, Macintosh voice was what started it all anyways.  

  4. If you are comparing Star Trek and Star Wars the comparison should really be Data vs C3PO.

    That said both Data and C3PO had some form of personality.

    Apple and Google both have amazing products.

    This must mean that Nokia and Microsoft will be bringing HAL to the party.

    (HAL is IBM shifted 1 place to the left)

  5. After reading a lot of comments on line about the iphone’s Siri, I went searching on the Android Market on my Motorola Photon and found 2 apps that were pretty good ~ “Speaktoit Assistant” and ” Jeannie Voice Actions”. I was going to choose one or the other but I decided to keep both. Here is why: With “Assistant” you can create an Avatar and it can tell you where the nearest restaurants are as well as play music that is stored in your phone.
    While  ‘Voice Actions” can do math pretty well and it actually reads the “latest news” for you.

    I named them both Betty and downloaded SVOX to give them a nice voice. I now have both on my home screen and it has been a blast getting to know them. “Voice Actions” is religious and “Assistant” is not, lol, but they are both awesome. They are both in beta form so I look forward to getting the updates in the coming months.


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