Siri’s an Interface, Voice Actions Are a Proxy

If you follow the ongoing Google vs Apple battle, you’ll likely have noticed Motorola’s recent marketing campaign that’s been making headlines. Motorola took to YouTube to try to diminish the threat of the iPhone 4S by pitting Android’s Voice Actions against iPhone’s Siri.

Voice control is something that a lot of people clearly care about, considering the iPhone 4S’s record-breaking sales when it’s primary addition was Siri. However, I don’t think it’s right to compare Siri to Google Voice Actions since they’re really two different things: one’s an interface and one’s merely an input method.

Making It Fair

I’m sure we all here at AppStorm want to be fair to each device we discuss, so there are a few things worth pointing out about that commercial. The ad is all about showing speed: how fast the voice command works on each phone. However, it’s somewhat misleading by being purposely¬†latent on the iPhone’s part.

For example, in the first test where both are asked to send a message, each phone requires a user’s confirmation before it’s sent off. When the confirmation screen pops up on Android, it’s instantly pressed by the model. Yet, when Siri’s confirmation screen appears, they wait three seconds before tapping on the send button. In my personal experience, I can tell you that if they had confirmed the message on Siri as quick as they had on Android, the iPhone’s performance would have equalled or bettered Android’s.

Instead of launching a browser window, Siri answers commands right within the "app".

However, i’m not trying to impart any kind of pro-iPhone bias into this. Siri is not a perfect service, and it rarely understands my commands on the first attempt (although neither does any dictation system). However, before we progress with the article, we need to leave the obviously pro-Motorola advertisement behind.

Interfaces vs Input

In the context of Motorola’s campaign or not, Siri has been directly compared to voice command systems on a number of platforms. However, Siri isn’t a voice control system: it’s an interface to your phone. On the other hand, Google’s Voice Actions is an input method meant to replace the action of finding an app and typing in a command.

You’ll notice that Google’s Voice Actions is a system that’s reliant on apps within the phone’s library. If you ask it “how many cups in a quart”, it won’t reply back to you contextually. Instead, it’ll open up the browser window and start searching for an answer for you, leaving the process completely. From what i’ve seen, Voice Actions does a job and then gets out of your way, leaving you to make any adjustments or to continue the process yourself.

Siri is different. Instead of starting a search in Safari for the answer to “how many cups in a quart?”, it brings up the answer right within the Siri “app”. Of course it relies on WolframAlpha, a web service, to bring you that information, but it doesn’t load up the website or the app to present you with your answer. In this way, Siri is an interface to getting done what you need on your phone. I can pick up my iPhone, open Siri and complete everything I need to do right from within it, without ever leaving. Google Voice Actions will leave me after the first hurdle.

Siri here is being asked "What about Napa Valley?" as a follow up to a previous question about the weather. Siri's conversational nature allows it to know what you're talking about.

Siri’s a Person

Apple’s given Siri a personality, and you can even go in-depth and find out a whole backstory to the loveable AI. You can have a conversation with Siri, and she will work with you until your aim is achieved, even if it takes multiple revisions of a message. Like a real personal assistant, Siri can interpret what you mean and asks you follow up questions if needed. It might not be the fastest process, but I find it incredibly accurate.

The fact that Google Voice Actions isn’t¬†a conversational tool that’ll work with in the same way that Siri does is not a negative point against it. It’s simply somewhat wrong to compare them, since they both suit different purposes and become more useful depending on the scenario. If you just want to do a simple task on your phone, Voice Actions on Android is probably better. However, only with Siri can I not be touching the phone yet able to dictate a message, make changes to it, re-address if I need to, etc.

Have you compared the two? Leaving any Apple or Google bias aside, do you find one performs better than the other? Does it depend on context? Let us know in the comments.