Since I got my company issued iPhone 5, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with Siri, the voice search application that began with the iPhone 4s. I’ve had mixed results with it and, generally, do not use it. However, that does not mean I don’t like the idea. Far from it, I do. It’s just that the Siri implementation is, well, sorely lacking. And, for some reason, I can find out the meaning of life yet cannot get results for NASCAR.
Bias aside, I can blame some of the poor results on Apple’s algorithm. Some of the witty results are from Wolfram Alpha while some, I am sure, are from Apple itself. (Ask it who let the dogs out…go on, I dare you.)
Since my personal phone is an iPhone 4, I do not have Siri. Neither does my first gen iPad. However, all is not lost. See, there are a few apps that do some or all of what Siri does and more.
I have tried out three alternatives and my results are below. Each one of the apps are free but there are paid ones as well. I have not tried them.
Google Now is the most complete of the three apps I tried. It has the power of Google search behind it and, in my opinion, is more responsive than even Siri. Google Now also works on PC’s and Macintosh. Google Now also gives you access to Google goggles and a host of Google apps. But, how useful is it? In a word: VERY.
I am not a huge fan of Google, in fact, I use Bing as my primary search engine but Microsoft does not have something like Google Now (it did, way back in the Windows Mobile 5 days with Live Search. That was pretty good, for 2006.) That said, I think Google not only did a good job with Now, I find it better than Siri in so many ways. It returns better search results, does not give as many smart assed answers (though some of them that Siri gives are funny) and it knows about NASCAR.
Admittedly, I did not try this one as extensively as the others. In a word, it’s confusing. However, it did come closest to Siri, even using Siri’s voice(!). However, it failed to discern Erie, Pennsylvania from Gary or Yearly when I asked for the distance between that location and Mechanicsville, Virginia. Some results it spoke, most it just returned a web page. This was my least favorite of the three. It had far too many options as well and was the worst of the three in picking up my voice. To be fair, however, I tried it on the iPhone 5 and Siri seems to misunderstand quite a lot as well, so maybe it is either the microphone on the 5 or neither like my voice. Evi also seems to be iPhone ready as it fills the screen completely.
Vlingo is interesting in that it has hooks into email, sms, maps and your social nets as well as search. It really does create an email with the to, subject and body all filled in. It really does create an SMS message and will post to Twitter or Facebook. The problem, though, is that you have to use specific words (which makes sense) and it must understand what you want. Here’s where it seemed to have problems. For me, it mostly understood me, it just did not do what I wanted. And, when it did, you still have finish the task by tapping an onscreen button. Why can’t you just say ‘Vlingo, send’ or ‘Vlingo, done’? I like what they are trying to do, they just need to go a wee bit further. Oh, one additional gripe: you must tap the screen when you are done speaking. It was the only app to require this. I suppose it is so the apps knows when you are dictating, but it makes little sense.
Of the three (and Siri,) I prefer Google Now. Vlingo, when the bugs are worked out, will be a strong contender, but, for now, Google wins.
All three apps are in the App Store, work on iPhone 4 and up and are free.
EDIT: I neglected to mention that Google Now and Evi are also available on Android and gives Android users a Siri like experience. Evi is currently in Beta. Vlingo is also availble on Blackberry and Windows Mobile (no mention of Windows Phone, though.)