How Apple’s Siri Just Stole Voice Control From Android

Posted on 05 October 2011, Last updated on 03 January 2014 by

Image courtesy Apple Inc.No doubt you’ve already heard of Siri, the voice control software that Apple is launching with the iPhone 4S. If you are late to the part, recap here.

Apple is billing Siri not as “voice-control” but as a personal assistant that will perform tasks for you. The press is already lauding its impressive functionality. But how has Apple managed to make such a big splash over a feature that Android has had for some time now?

To start, marketing has a lot to do with it. While Android bills voice-control (VC)l as just that — a way to control your phone with your voice — Apple promotes Siri as an entity that will help you get things done. Apple has given their iOS voice control a person’s name. Simply by calling it “Siri” (notice how Apple — and thus the press — always spell it as though it’s a proper noun), Apple has immediately made it more personal and more human — you’ll see the word ‘assistant’ thrown around a lot in stories about Siri (not excluding this one). Even if the abilities of Siri and Android’s VC were identical, Siri would become the colloquialism for voice-control on a phone, the same way that mainstreamers, who don’t know the difference, call any digital audio player an iPod.

That’s if the abilities of Siri and Android’s VC were the same. At a base level, there’s no fundamental difference between Siri and Android VC, both convert sound into meaning and perform some function based on what you’ve said. But Siri feels more human because of the breadth of its understanding. [See there I go, talking about Siri as if it were an entity and not a thing. Touché, Apple]. Siri will see high usage because the user doesn’t need to look through a list of things they are allowed to say, or pay attention to the order that they need to be said. Apple has ensured that Siri can understand such a range of input that there’s no need to think first about what you are asking it. Again, this makes Siri far more human than Android VC; you speak to Siri like a person, with no need to pause to formulate your question in a special computer-readable way. This means that there is a highly likelyhood that anyone who hasn’t used Siri before could ask it a question and get a good response, making it inherently more intuitive than Android VC. That’s the goal anyway.

Once Apple frees Siri from it’s iPhone 4S jail (either on to older, or newer devices), expect it to become a household name, and expect lots of existing voice-control software to be ‘reborn’ with human names.

21 Comments For This Post

  1. aftermath says:

    OK Carrypad, take care, and good luck to you. Thanks for everything. Unsubscribed.

  2. Ben Lang says:

    In a year when “Siri” is used colloquially by the mainstream to describe voice-control on phones (or in general), come on back and say hello!

  3. Ship says:

    Voice control has been the next big thing since 90s. It’s novel.
    “go #### yourself”
    “siri does not understand”

    And then it’s never used again.

  4. JeffGr says:

    I think this analysis could turn out to be correct, but I also think there are a couple unanswered questions about Siri that could have a major impact.

    First, right now we really don’t know how well it works. It seemed impressive in the demo, but obviously that would be carefully scripted to make sure that the only requests used were ones that it would understand and respond to appropriately. In real use, it is still unknown how often users will be greeted with some variation of a “I didn’t understand that” response. The fact that Apple made the unusual (for them) choices of billing Siri a “beta” and then not allowing the press any hands-on time with the phone at least suggests the possiblity that there are some bumps in the system.

    The other, possibly bigger, question is whether or not this kind of natural language voice control for a phone is really that useful. I’m just not sure whether it will end up as a popular way to interact with a phone or as just a clever gimmic that users will play with for a while and then abandon. Obviously, voice command has unquestionably already proven useful for hands-free dialing and for navigation and audio controls while driving, but it isn’t clear that Siri brings that much new to the table for those features. I think it is much more of an open question whether many people are really going to want to use voice for things like appointment scheduling, texting/email, or web searches. For one thing, there are an awful lot of situations where voice control would have serious privacy and/or courtesy issues.

  5. Michael Long says:

    “At a base level, there’s no fundamental difference between Siri and Android VC … Apple has ensured that Siri can understand such a range of input that there’s no need to think first about what you are asking it. Again, this makes Siri far more human than Android VC; you speak to Siri like a person, with no need to pause to formulate your question in a special computer-readable way. ”

    Yep. No fundamental difference whatsoever.

  6. ctcsme says:

    Didn’t they steal voice control from 2001 Space Odessey?

  7. ctcsme says:

    Didn’t they both steal voice control from the moive 2001 A Space Odessey?

  8. Jonathan says:

    So how do we know you won’t have to pause and formulate an action or question for Siri? It hasn’t even been tested by the masses yet. We’ve only seen it in Apple’s scripted demo’s. Even there you can pick up on queued words like schedule, meeting, reminder, call, text. Also, this article doesn’t attempt to do an analysis of other Android apps that are downloadable. How can you say Android doesn’t have this unformulated command/input like personality to it? If I had seen mention of the wide variety of different Android apps mentioned as if some actual research had been done on the subject this article would be more believable. To me it’s just trash since the writer obviously did fall into the marketing trance of Apple and accepted siri as the baseline for all other apps. Next time can you do your homework? Or at least attempt to show us you did some research?

  9. Ben Lang says:

    The article wasn’t considering third party apps, it was comparing the native voice-control features of both platforms. Why not include third-party apps? Because unless the users already know about voice-control, then a third-party app may as well not exists, for the user won’t seek it out. That’s not to say that third-party apps don’t play a roll in this, but official implementations tend to do more and they tend to do it better.

    Siri was actually a third-party app on iOS until Apple purchased the company. Now that it’s built directly into the device, it will see much broader usage than it saw during it’s third-party life. The same goes for Android and third-party voice control apps. I do feel a bit bad that Apple is likely crushing the market for third-party voice control apps. I used to use Dragon Dictation, but I’ve got a feeling they’ll see massively declined usage as time goes on.

  10. Tom says:

    How about actually doing research before posting?’s-so-great-about-siri/

  11. Kenny T. says:

    This post is very misleading. The iPhone already has voice control — it has had it since the 3GS model. Siri is fundamentally different. When you tell it something, it determines what app to access to complete your demand. You should watch the video to understand the concept. Furthermore, Apple is not going to release it if it doesn’t work. One thing Apple doesn’t tend to do is overpromise. That why its customer satisfaction rate is so high. Your article suggests that Apple is behind the curve when, with this integration, it is way ahead.

  12. JeffGr says:

    Did you actually read Ben’s article?

  13. Kenny T. says:

    Yes, I did: Did you? Siri is entirely different from Android VC. Read the article below.'s-so-great-about-siri/

    Siri is artificial intelligence, not merely voice control. Also, while it is considered a beta, several members of the media were able to test it and they were impressed. To suggest that Apple’s product name is the big difference between it and Android is dishonest. The headline itself is ridiculous.

  14. JeffGr says:

    You really do seem like you are responding to the headline and not the text of the article as you seem to be trying to “correct” it by making the same point the article made. The entire point of the article, if you actually read it, is that Siri appears to bring significant advancements over existing voice control mechanisms and, thus, will likely come to be viewed as the leader in that space. In particular, closely read the second-to-last paragraph.

  15. Nico says:

    I agree. A lot of people keep saying “Oh, Android’s had that already” but they don’t even know that iOS has had Voice Command for a long time now, which is what is similar to Android’s Voice Control. I have both an iPhone and an Android and I do agree that Siri is way more advanced than the old Voice Commands of iOS or Android’s Voice Control in that you don’t have to memorize specific commands to make it work.

  16. Realty says:

    Voice control of small devices could end up being as important as gesture control is now. (Anyone want to replace the pinch gesture to control picture size with mouse over to view menu, select zoom, select % to zoom picture, select OK?) I don’t think Siri will be alone in the field and yes Android has some catching up to do. I prefer dictating text messages and emails but my new Bionic rarely gets two full sentences in a row correct when I am dictating. Haven’t tried third party apps yet but I had good luck with Dragon software on past devices. Siri is the first shot in the voice wars. It will not be the last.

  17. Ship says:

    “Siri is the first shot in the voice wars”

    And so it begins…

  18. Joe says:

    Anroid Market has a handful of free apps right now, including one called “SpeakToIt” personal assistant which I tried, and it does exactly the same thing Siri does. You can hold conversations with it, and it performs all of the same tasks Siri does.

    So aside from what all of the Apple brainwashed lemmings will tell you, this is not a cure for cancer.

    In addition, I was at my friends house last night where he was attempting to show off his new iPhone 4s. I watched in delight as he fumbled to try and get Siri to answer questions, and it kept failing. Saying “I cannot do that right now” or “Unable to connect to network”. It took him about 3 tries on every question to get it to perform correctly. So it has its problems to say the least. I enjoyed it though.

  19. Alfredo says:

    The reviews of SpeakToIt, contrary to your glowing review, are not so friendly. Siri connects to a server, so my guess is that your friend’s connection was not so good.

    Anyone can share a positive or negative anecdote and pass it off as the standard (including what I have heard from friends and family), but the reviews speak for themselves. Apple customers are happy, not because they are lemmings, but because after being told how bad Apple is, they tried these products for themselves and were pleasantly surprised. Every Apple article I read has some comment from an Android user who knows best. The iPhone is the top smartphone model because it has style and substance. Apple fans are frequently referred to as snobs, but it’s non-fans that are typically arrogant and pretend that they’re at war. Like what you like. Just don’t dehumanized those with a different opinion. Apple fans (or Android fans) are not dumb.

  20. Dante Ortega says:

    Android is still up and kicking there, no need to generalize. For example, those of you who have an Android device can try Speaktoit, which is totally a worthwhile competition for Siri (read more here:

    The idea is that it can hold a conversation, perform duties that would ordinarily take a while to complete on your own (multi-step actions) and does them all in one sentence. And the best part – IT LEARNS, and its free! Read the link posted, you’ll love your Android even more :)

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