Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

Summary: Android dominates the iOS/iPhone in terms of speech recognition and it has from the very beginning. Simply put, Android has it and iOS doesn't.


I read in Steven Levy's In the Plex over the weekend that Google used its free 1-800-GOOG-411 service as a way to build the massive voice recognition database that would eventually become Voice SearchVoice Input and Voice Actions -- you have to admit, that's pretty smart.

Android dominates the iOS/iPhone in terms of speech recognition and it has from the very beginning. Simply put, Android has it and iOS doesn't.

One of Android's key competitive advantages over iOS (and the iPhone by extension) is its amazing speech recognition software - and how deeply it's integrated into the Android OS. Every Android smartphone that I use (currently an HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon) reminds me about just how important speech recognition is in a smartphone.

On Android voice search is pervasive - it's available everywhere there's a text-entry field via a convenient microphone icon. On iOS it's completely absent.

Sure, the App Store has a stripped-down Dictation app, but it doesn't pass your text to Google. You'll need to download a second (or third) app for that. Want to search in a map? You can't using the bundled iOS Maps app, nor can you with the Google Search app. You need to install the Bing iOS app to get voice searching in maps. So you need four different third-party iOS apps to do about 10 percent of the speech recognition that's possible today in stock Android.

You see my point.

Speech recognition is important on a smartphone. In fact, a very good case can be made for it being a safety feature. The meteoric rise of the smartphone has turned us into a society of people constantly looking and poking at our phones. Being able to touch a button and dictate a command is eminently safer that staring at tiny text and buttons on a touchscreen.

But, there's hope for Apple yet. TechCrunch reports that Apple has been negotiating a deal with Nuance in recent months -- but the type of deal remains unclear. At a minimum Apple could include the Nuance speech engine -- widely regarded as the best -- in iOS 5, but Apple should simply acquire the company, bring the talent and IP in-house and embed speech recognition at every level of the OS. Then iOS would at least be on par with Android in speech.

In order to surpass Android in speech Apple needs to do something special. I'm not sure what it is, but Apple doesn't usually implement a feature half-way (witness copy and paste). My vote is for voice synthesis that's just as good as voice recognition. I can see it now: "iPhone: read me all the emails from John this morning."

It'll be interesting to see if there's any news on the Apple/Nuance front before WWDC '11 -- which is now less than one month away.

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, Google, Mobile OS, Mobility, Networking, Operating Systems, Telcos

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  • Windows Phone is way better

    I have an HTC Desire Android device and the speech recognition isn't a patch on WP7's. P7 FTW!
    • Knowing what you are talking about FTW!

      You do realize that an Android device, by definition, can NOT be a WP7 device, right?
      • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

        @macadam You can't know that for sure. I've hacked old Windows Mobile devices to run Android fairly well. Can't say I've done the other way around, though.
  • Message has been deleted.

    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

      @jillknight1 You do realize that this article is about something that is included in the core OS of both Android and iOS and is not in fact an app one can download. There ARE apps one can download to do some of the things mentioned but your link and post have little to nothing to do with the topic at hand. Let's stay on subject here, shall we? Thanks.
      • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

        He is a spammer. The comment he posted was meant to deflect attention from the link so he doesn't get deleted immediately
  • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

    speech recognition on android is not yet usable in the uk in my opinion - presumably to do with local accents.
    • Android's speech recognition is not much better in the states.


      My plains "accent" is too far off for Google's speech recognition as well and the results are often whacky. As a result, I spend more time editing the recognition than what it would have taken to simply type it in. I do not know what region Google has their speech recognition tuned for, but I have found it to be of limited use.

      I am sure there is some regional dialect that it works great on.
    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

      @RonanSail Oddly enough, it does ok with my mixed UK/African accent. On certain words, it struggles though
    • Interesting - works well for neutral accent

      Here in Cleveland we are known for not having an accent (what we actually say is sometimes idiotic). I have found that the Android speech recognition usually works well and is a handy feature.

      It should be noted that this has been available for a very long time in Android. There wasn't anything anywhere close for the iphone when I had one.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

        @Schoolboy Bob Dragon dictation has been around on the iphone since October of 09. Not sure if that's after your iphone days or not.
      • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

        @Schoolboy Bob <br><br>It works okay for me as long as I speak very slowly and separate words. Otherwise, it doesn't work well with my southern accent.<br><br>Also, in my job, I frequently end up using voice recognition while navigating menus over the telephone when calling large corporations such as AT&T, IBM and others. It has been my experience that those systems work quite well.

        In other words, voice recognition may not be as mainstream as some folks thought it would be by now (I never thought we'd eventually just talk to our computers as opposed to typing like some people think), but it is a relevant interface in niche areas.
    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel


      I can't speak to the accent comments but from my experience it may depend on how well the hw/sw are tuned. For example, I had HTC incredible 1 and found the tool very useful and time saving. It wasn't perfect but pretty accurate, saved lots of time typing letters on a soft key pad, then go back and correct a few letters or words if required. If I were to guess it was about 75% accurate. But now that I have HTC Thunderbolt I can say the accuracey has gone way up, 95%+ and even with background noise. So good it helped convince my wife to finally upgrade to same phone an get away from real keyboard.
      • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

        One more * vote for any phone platform using SR, is that if you find it difficult to type keys on your device you almost no longer have to! 5* rating!
    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

      @RonanSail: It's available but largely a waste of time. You can even switch to an experimental server in Germany.
  • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

    Australian is pretty bad too.
    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

      @alsobannedfromzdnet I have no problem using it in Australia.. 5 stars here
    • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel


      although my wp7 phone seems to understand my Aus accent ;-)
  • RE: Speech recognition: the iOS achilles heel

    Decent speech recognition is the ONLY thing I miss from Windows Mobile - the Microsoft Voice Control (or even the Cybertron Voice Control) on that device was great. And it is one of the only two issues I have with iOS - the other being GUI customization which is something I jailbreak for.

    I have a bit of a southern accent and when I use the voice control on iOS to call home for example I either get "multiple entries" (as I have a "home" and "home voicemail" in my contacts) or it dials another contact entirely.

    Hopefully with the deal with Nuance this is something that Apple will soon have a handle on and will implement with much better success than their current voice recognition.

    In other words: Apple, fix this.
  • Android Voice App

    Voice recognition in Android is pretty good, but I find that it dosen't do the job for trying to place a call. I found a great free Android app called Vlingo-specifically used for voice placed calls, text and navigation. All hands free.