Meet Android’s Own Personal Assistant: Jeannie

When Apple announced their iPhone 4S, I (like a lot of people) was underwhelmed. I have always felt that the fact they update every year (or less) is overkill for Apple, as they only have major changes every two years.

There is one feature I am very interested in though, and that is Siri. If it works as well as the commercials make it seem, it’s truly impressive. So I, like any good Android owner, took to the Android Market to see if there were any apps out there similar to Siri. A few weeks ago Sam Cater took a look at Iris, one Siri clone. I figured I’d take a look at Jeannie.

Jeannie, formerly Voice Actions, actually came out well before the Siri hoopla started, and to great reviews. Today we’ll take a look at how it works and how well it works.

Using Jeannie

Using Jeannie is pretty straight forward- open the app and start speaking to it (to her?). There’s no introduction or tutorial, so I just went ahead and asked it a few simple questions – things like, “What time is it?” “What’s the weather like?” and so on. The app had a pretty easy time answering these and, much like with Siri, the answers were read out loud.

There is a feature list in settings. You can also ask Jeannie, “What can I do?” to get more info.

Jeannie

If you go to the app’s page on the Android Market, you’ll see a more complete list of commands. A few examples they offer are:

  • call James at home
  • text Maria that I love her
  • news about Barack Obama
  • set alarm clock: wake up Monday at 8am

You can also ask to search on Amazon, Ebay, and more, as well as to enable certain phone functions like bluetooth and wifi, translate your speech to a different language, and install programs.

If you plan on using Jeannie a lot, I suggest you make it your default voice command app. Generally, you can go to Applications->Voice Search and choose “Clear defaults.” Then press whatever button you have enabled for voice search (often this is a long-press on Search), and Android should ask you which app to use.

How It Works

Jeannie uses Google’s Speech Recognition API to covert speech to text and then process it, which works incredibly well. One of the reasons Google offers so many free products is to make it’s other products smarter, and the same thing goes for speech recognition. A while back Google offered GOOG-411 for free as an alternative to calling information for 75 cents (in the USA). The reason was to improve their speech-to-text technology, and I think it worked!

Jeannie, using this technology, is pretty accurate in most cases. Once the speech is converted, it uses some programming to associate that text with one of its many functions, including chatting.

Chatting With Jeannie

One of the things I was most curious to see about was how much personality Jeannie had. One thing I really like (with what I see) about Siri is how funny conversations can be. So I asked Jeannie a few questions to get started. The first, of course, was, “Open the pod bay door.” Jeannie responded with, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that right now.” Win.

"I'm Sorry Dave..."

The conversations are pretty interesting and kinda funny, though I am reminded of the AIM bot “SmarterChild” when talking to Jeannie (did I just date myself?). I even had my phone talk to my tablet (both Android devices). It was very entertaining.

Thoughts on the App

Jeannie is pretty cool when it works. It does everything that’s advertised and there are little Easter eggs built in for when you say the right thing. There is also a Settings area where you can change the bot’s name as well your own (by default, Jeannie calls you ‘stranger’), turn on a safe search filter, and upgrade to the Pro version (which is $2.99, unlocks some other features, and turns off ads). Overall, I like Jeannie – however, it does get a little frustrating to use.

It will lock up and freeze on me from time to time, and it has some trouble with certain words. When I ask it, “What movies are playing?” it goes right to YouTube. The same thing with when I just say, “movie listings.” I’d really like to see some better integration for stuff like that: local searches and anything that Google has built in to its own search. Also, as a guy who lives in the USA, I really would like Jeannie to give me the weather in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius. It also gives distance in kilometers first, but does convert to miles.

Finally, when it comes to certain phone functions that involve the contact book, the app can be slow when looking up information the first time. With both calling and texting, it would have been faster (the first time) just to do it manually. Overall, my experience with texting wasn’t very good, as usually the wrong message got sent.

Conclusion

Personal Assistants that allow voice commands will no doubt become the newest craze (if they haven’t already). Luckily this was something Google realized a while back and made their API available for other developers to use. While Jeannie is a bit rough around the edges, it is very powerful and wildly entertaining. I think with some work, it could be right up there with Siri.


Summary

Jeannie is a voice controlled personal assistent for Android

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