[access-uk] The Voice-Off: Android versus Siri

  • From: Colin Howard <colin@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: access-uk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 03 Jan 2014 12:50:05 +0000


Note, I came across this amongst posts from way back August 2013 I suspect
matters have advanced since.

I am sending for interest and, maybe, constructive comments?

The Voice-Off: Android versus Siri
By David Pogue

90 Seconds With Pogue: Speech Smackdown: The Times's David Pogue pits
Google's Android and Apple's iOS against each other to see which voice
recognition system is better.


Published: August 21, 2013 

 Email: pogue@xxxxxxxxxxx


"Android's voice commands are still no match for Siri." 

Man, I really was stupid. Who'd be dumb enough to take sides in a religious
war? I'd have been better off writing, "Conservatives are better-looking
than liberals" or "Pro-life people are worse drivers than pro-choice." 

But the superiority of cellphone speech-recognition technology is not an
idle question. Once touch screens became the future of phones, voice
recognition became desperately important. Without physical keys or buttons,
entering text and manipulating software controls are fussy, multistep

So I've just spent two weeks immersed in voice recognition. I carried an
iPhone and a phone running Google's Android operating system with me
everywhere. I spoke to both phones simultaneously. I wanted to get to know
the differences, the strengths, the weaknesses. 

When people talk about speech recognition, they mean, and often confuse,
three different functions. There's dictation, where the phone converts
speech to text; commands, where you operate the phone by talking; and
Internet information searches. There are vast differences among the
successes of the three. 

Dictation, for example, is still fairly poor on both systems. Both Android
phones and Siri, the iPhone's speech feature, make many transcription
errors. When you hear people bashing cellphone transcription, declaring, "I
gave up on it," they're usually referring to dictation. 

That's forgivable, but come on. You're asking your phone to understand
varying accents at varying distances from its microphone, in rooms with
varying background noise. It's a wonder this feature works at all. 

The latest Android version doesn't require an Internet connection to do
basic dictation. And in Android, the words appear on the screen as you utter
them; Siri doesn't transcribe until you stop talking. 

On the other hand, Siri understands formatting controls like "capital," "all
caps" and "no space," as well as all kinds of punctuation - "colon," "dash,"
"asterisk," "ellipsis" and so on. Android understands only the basic
symbols, like "period," "comma" and "exclamation point." 

The second category, phone-control commands, is far more successful for far
more people. This is when you say: "Call Mom," "Text Emily," "Wake me at
7:30," "Play some Billy Joel," "Remind me to feed the cat when I get home,"
and so on. 

Controlling your phone without touching it is important for safety, of
course. If you must interact with your phone while driving, speaking to it
certainly seems safer than looking at it. 

But don't forget the convenience factor. It's much faster to say, "Open
Angry Birds" than to flip through home screens full of icons. And "Set my
alarm for 8 a.m." is about 375 finger-taps quicker than using the clock app.

Here, Siri has the edge. As you're driving along, for example, and you hear
the incoming message sound, you can say, "Read my new messages," and Siri
reads them aloud. It even invites you to dictate a reply, without ever
taking your eyes off the road. Android can't do that. 

Both systems can tap into some of the phone's own apps. They recognize
commands like "Make a meeting with Bob Barnett Thursday at noon" (a calendar
interaction), "Make a note to pay back Harold" (notes), "Send an e-mail to
Danny Cooper" (mail) and "What's Steve Alper's home address?" (contacts). 

Android blows away iOS, though, in Web searches. Both kinds of phones do an
amazing job fetching weather updates ("What will the weather in Detroit be
this weekend?"), times ("What time is it in Belgium?"), stock prices, sports
information ("When's the next Cowboys game?"), conversions ("How many
dollars in 32 euros?"), calculations ("How many days until Valentine's
Day?") and every kind of Web-search query ("How many calories are in a
Hershey bar?", "When is the next solar eclipse?", "How do you spell
schadenfreude?", "Show me pictures of a 1985 Corvette," and so on). 

Some Siri humor. 

Android is especially amazing at dialing places without having to look them
up ("Call the Macy's on 34th Street") and directions ("Get me to La Guardia
Airport by public transportation"), since its Map app is so unbelievably
good. It's also smarter about connecting questions. If your first question
was, "Who is Hillary Clinton?", you can follow up with, "Who is her

And Google has a built-in music-recognition feature, like the Shazam app.
Tap the voice-recognition icon, let the phone listen to whatever song is
playing, and marvel as it instantly identifies the song and singer. 

Unfortunately, Android has an Achilles' heel - actually, more like Achilles'
entire leg. To issue spoken commands, you have to tap the microphone icon on
the Google search bar. And it's only on the home screen or the Google Now
screen (swipe up from the bottom). So you can't speak commands when your
phone is locked, or when you're in another app. 

On the iPhone, you hold down the Home button or the clicker on your earbuds
cord, so the voice command feature works when the phone is asleep or in any

In other words, to use an Android phone's speech features, you frequently
have to pick it up, and you always have to look at it, which defeats much of
the purpose. The exception: Motorola's new phones, like the Moto X, can be
set to listen all the time. 

Siri is better with restaurants and movies, too. Both phones understand,
"Good Indian restaurants around here" or "Call the Olive Garden on Daleford
Road." But Siri can also book reservations, thanks to integration with
OpenTable.com. You can say, for example, "Make a reservation at an
inexpensive Italian restaurant Saturday night at 7." 

Similarly, Siri provides attractive, consolidated answer screens for, "What
movies are opening this week?" "Give me the reviews for 'The Way, Way Back,'
" or "What are today's showtimes for 'The Smurfs 2'?" Android just shows you
Google search results. 

And then there's the issue of personality: Siri has it, Android doesn't. 

We're talking about wisecracks, jokes, attitude, addressing you by name. If
you ask Siri, "Who's your daddy?", she replies: "You are. Can we get back to
work now?" Say, "Beam me up, Siri," and she says: "Please remove your belt,
shoes and jacket, and empty your pockets." Say, "Talk dirty to me," and she
replies, "Humus. Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel." 

Now, on the great battlefield of the Apple-Google fanboy war, humor is small
potatoes. Apple haters practically claw their eyes out when you mention
Siri's personality. "It's not useful! It's a parlor trick! It strains me to
avoid profanity in describing how stupid you sound!" 

And that's fine. That's why there's choice: two camps in this philosophical
school. (Well, there's also Windows Phone and BlackBerry, but their speech
recognition is extremely rudimentary.) 

And so: Put down your swords, fanboys. Both systems are exceedingly useful,
once you spend the time to learn them. (Here's a site with a good list of
Android voice commands: 



And here's one for Siri: 



Here is the link to a mp3 file.



Though Siri has the edge, the gap has closed substantially, and both systems
are rapidly improving. For example, until recently Android had no
phone-control features at all - only Web searches. And in this fall's iOS 7
update, Siri will gain a more pleasant speaking voice, faster searches and
the ability to change settings by voice ("Turn on Airplane Mode," "Turn up
the brightness," "Turn on Bluetooth") - something neither phone can do now. 

This much is clear: Cellphone speech recognition is getting better fast.
Very soon, we'll do less talking through our phones - and more talking to




Colin, who by the Lord's  providence remains living  
near Fareham in Southern  England,   hopes you   
enjoyed a very blessed  Christmas and are having a 
peaceful,  prosperous and happy  New Year during 2014.
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