Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

Summary: Siri is the talk of the town at the moment and here you can see how it compares to other platforms and a cross platform service. Siri still beats them all handily.


Likely one of the most compelling features of the new Apple iPhone 4S is the Siri personal assistant functionality. While we have seen voice control and voice to text before, I think Siri really sets itself apart with the "common language" interaction and conversational understanding of user intent. That said, it is still a beta and there are some basic features that it lacks. The popularity of Siri has given other platforms and solutions some much needed attention and I thought you might want to hear a bit more about Siri and those other available solutions.

Siri on Apple iPhone 4S

Siri is only available at this time on the new Apple iPhone 4S and requires a connection to perform even the most basic function. I disconnected from the network and the utility is worthless. You also have to rely on the Apple server being up and running and as I pointed out a few days ago you may have to reset your connection if things get overloaded. I imagine as the novelty wears off a bit that the server load will go down and we won't have so many times where Siri is offline.

I have used the other voice services discussed in this post, but Siri stands apart with the ability to interact with natural speaking and is also one of the sassiest programs I have ever interacted with as it talks back to you as well. I am sure many people did what I did and tried swearing at Siri and saying other dumb things to see what the reaction was and you can go visit this Siri sample site to see some funny responses.

There is no speech learning required to use Siri and it's smart enough to carry on a conversation so you can move to setting a reminder and then having Siri adjust it back another hour if you change your mind during the conversation. You really need to try it to see what it can do. Here is a list of things Siri can do, simply ask "What can I say?" to see this list on your iPhone 4S:

  • Call people or numbers
  • Play songs stored on your iPhone
  • Text people
  • Setup meetings
  • Setup reminders
  • Ask for directions
  • Email people
  • Find out stock prices
  • Set alarms
  • Ask for address info from your contact list
  • Find your friends using the Find My Friends utility
  • Create notes
  • Get answers to calculations and trivia via Wolfram Alpha
  • Search the Internet
  • Voice to text: Mic icon appears like on Android and even this requires a data connection.

As I mentioned, Siri lets you hold "real" conversations so you can create a note with one item and then pause in between each item to add as a bullet to a note in an ongoing conversation. You can ask Siri what your schedule is for today, the week, or more with questions such as "What's next for me?" I use my phone for my alarms and tend to vary my wake up time on a regular basis. I hated going through several steps to set these up and now I just tell Siri to wake me at 4:15 am and am done. Siri also supports location-based services, being referred to by people as a geo-fence, so you can have a reminder go off when you get to a certain location, such as "Remind me to call the dentist when I get home."

Here are a list of things that Siri cannot yet do:

  • Launch applications: I tend to load up quite a few and have them embedded in folders.
  • Give better driving directions: Only basic Google Maps is provided for directions and Apple needs to either provide a better service or allow 3rd party vendors like Navigon to tie into Siri.
  • List the songs in your music collection to choose what to play
  • Read you your search results: Siri still requires you to look at your display for many results.

Google Voice Actions on Android

Google Voice Actions has been around for a while on Android 2.2 devices and is quite good too. It doesn't have the intelligence to carry on a conversation like Siri, but it can perform nearly all of the same functions as Siri. The voice to text capability is pretty accurate and the navigation is world's better thanks to Google Maps Navigation integration. Here is a list of things Google Voice Actions can do:

  • Call people or numbers
  • Play songs, including through 3rd party streaming music services
  • Text people
  • Ask for directions
  • Email people
  • Ask for address info from your contact list
  • Create notes
  • Search the Internet
  • Voice to text: Mic icon appears in keyboard

As you can see there are no voice actions for reminders and appointments, which actually tend to be the ones I am using most on my new iPhone 4S as it saves several steps. There is also no conversational support so Google Voice Actions won't remember what we have been talking about to refine the intended action like Siri does.

Tellme integration in Windows Phone 7

Microsoft purchased Tellme and then integrated the technology into Windows Phone 7. I wrote up a recent post where I was blown away by the ability to carry on a text messaging conversation with my daughter through a Bluetooth headset without ever once touching my Windows Phone 7 device. That was before I had the chance to try out Siri on the Apple iPhone 4S.

Here are the things you can do with a Windows Phone 7 device:

  • Call people or numbers
  • Search the Internet through Bing
  • Open applications
  • Text people
  • Map addresses
  • Initiate calls to others or press numbers during a phone call
  • Ease of access functions (such as setup speed dial)

As you can see, as amazing as Windows Phone 7's Tellme technology is for communications and search, it doesn't go much further than that. There is no text to speech functionality, except within text messaging. There is a lot of work to do by Microsoft to compete with the others in voice, but they do have a solid foundation and a powerful technology with Tellme. As the folks at Pocketnow posted Windows Phone will eventually get functionality like Siri.

Cross platform Vlingo application

To use Siri you have to be an Apple iPhone 4S owner, but if you have an older iPhone you are not left out if you look to apps such as Vlingo, which has actually seen a major increase in interest thanks to the coverage of Siri. I have used Vlingo before on Android before Voice Actions and the great things about Vlingo is that it is cross platform and works on iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Nokia, and the older Windows Mobile devices.

Vlingo does a great job of tying into apps on the platforms and providing voice to text functionality. Unlike Siri, it is not conversational. It is natural though and does not require any kind of voice training or anything. With Vlingo you can perform the following types of actions:

  • Call people or numbers
  • Update your Facebook or Twitter status
  • Play songs stored on your iPhone
  • Text people
  • Ask for directions
  • Email people
  • Create notes
  • Search the Internet
  • Open applications
  • Voice to text

Vlingo functions much like Google Voice Actions, except it works on multiple platforms. It is very powerful and you should check it out if you don't have an iPhone 4S.

Which do I prefer?

I was starting to put together a table to compare these different platforms and services, but I think it is actually quite easy to compare and contrast Siri with the rest. Google Voice Actions, Windows Phone 7, and Vlingo are all very similar and the only real big functional advantage they have over Siri is the ability to launch applications. Other than that, Siri beats all the others with the conversational nature of the utility that helps refine actions and make your life easier. Some of what Siri does actually helps ease my concern with a smaller display on the iPhone 4S compared to the Android and Windows Phone 7 big 4.3 inch devices. All of these services require data connections to perform so that is an inherent weakness with these voice recognition and assistant programs.

People who have not tried Siri really cannot understand the power and capability of it. Here is a sample conversation I had with Siri that shows how functional it really is:

  • Me: Play This Week in Tech
  • Siri: Now playing Twit 322: Damn you Siri
  • Me: Play Twit 323
  • Siri: Here's Twit 323: There's an App in my Lap

I then went on to make a couple of calls and after about 15 minutes I came back to Siri.

  • Me: Resume playing Twit
  • Siri: OK…

I don't know about you, but the ability of Siri to continue the conversation and understand my INTENT is simply amazing and revolutionary. I honestly think we are just starting to see the beginning of a new smartphone user paradigm and unlike many people who have said the novelty of Siri will wear off I think people will start using it more and more and then not be able to use phones that don't provide such assistance.

Other comparisons

Since Siri is so popular at the moment, there are several other writers who took a look at Siri and some of the competition so check out these other great articles:

Topics: Windows, Apple, Apps, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    I like your article !
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    Good article. I will not buy an iPhone to get Siri, but I do hope that it spurs more development of the others. I use VLingo. Also, I would like to point out that VLingo might not be conversational, and I'm not sure exactly what the definition of natural is, but I can phrase questions and commands in many different ways and get the same results. For example, I don't have to learn set commands to do set actions. I can open an app by saying "Start [app name]", or "Open [app name]" or "Launch [app name]". I've even tried adding please's at the beginning and things at the end like "Please start [app name] now" and it works most of the time, though it can get confused at times.

    The other thing that I noticed is that when I talk to it and have it create a message, it's accuracy is very very good. As someone that has used Dragon Naturally speaking before, I was blown away by how accurate VLingo is in recognizing words. Even after working with Naturally speaking for a while, it still wasn't as accurate even with it supposedly learning.

    So, Siri sounds great, but I'm pretty happy with VLingo. I hope VLingo gets better. Also, I'm not a huge Apple fan, or an android fan, and I like that VLingo is a cross platform device. Apple makes pretty nice apps, but they're in their own closed eco system. I don't like that, nor appreciate it. For example, Facetime! It would be great if Facetime was developed with open standards so everyone could use it. But, my phone works great with Fring. So my friends that have iPHones install Fring so that they can video chat/call with anyone, not just friends with an iPhone. So, my point is that I wish Apple would work more with people like Fring and VLingo so that it wasn't such a closed eco system. But, I guess that's why some people love Apple and other hate Apple.
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    Can Siri call numbers that aren't in its address book? I know with Android I can just tell it to "Call Pizza Hut on Main Street" and it'll connect me.

    Also, how often does it misinterpret what you say or give you creepy Cleverbot type responses?
    • Works like a champ and is accurate

      @Aerowind Yes, Siri does the same thing and VERY well. I have found it to be near perfect in understanding me too.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    I tried telling Siri... "I love you"
    and it told me...
    "I hope you don't say that to all the other mobile phones"
    • New phrase.. "Mobile Sl@t"


      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    You should also check out the Edwin app for Android, which has been around for a long while. It's not very conversational, but it can do a ton of things, including translations and of course, Wolfram lookups.
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    Great article. I am curious to see how Microsoft and Google respond to Siri.

    Google has a huge data advantage and has been studying behavior patterns for over a decade. There is absolutely no reason they couldn't make Siri on steroids. My biggest fear with Google is that they will create something great and let the handset manufacturers or carriers bastardize it like they've done with everything else.

    Google: "Hey guys, our phones can now interpret your brainwaves and perform any command you want."

    Manufacturers: "How can we disable it?"

    Microsoft has people talking to their phones, cars, and tvs. It shouldn't be a stretch for them to make this process less robotic. Microsoft's biggest threat? Themselves. The Excel team has probably already come up with a TellMe competitor for reasons unknown while the Windows team is trying to swallow up the TellMe team. Skype won't be used for voice recognition of any sort and it certainly won't make it onto Windows Phone.

    Meanwhile, Apple will simplify the interface by reducing the number of commands that Siri recognizes and 8 million units will be sold the first weekend.

    Rich Miles
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    you like talking to your phone? try fb or any other social place....may be join some clubs.....i know its difficult but eventually people will start liking you
    • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

      @abhi.jamwal If I recall correctly he's married... what's YOUR excuse there troll boy? Momma won't let you take your pasty face out of the basement and meet a girl? Or boys if that's what you are into?
  • Shouldn't the answer to question #1 be...

    "I was made by an underpaid worker in China"?
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

      @Hallowed are the Ori

      Underpaid in relation to who?

      Other Chinese workers making products for other computer and electronic goods makers, or pretty much anything else you'd find on store shelves these days.
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    Looks like you're a little ahead of yourself.
    Maybe "siri will beat", as you seem to be comparing what siri may eventually do with what the others do now.
  • You have to see SIRI in action, to believe a smart phone can do that

    I have an iPhone 4S and am blown away by what SIRI can do. For example, you can ask, "what is 376 by 9 and it will return the correct answer, via the screen. You can also say something like, "add note to pick up floor interface strip at Home Depot, and it will create a note with the text,"pick up floor interface strip at Home Depot".<br><br>SIRI makes interacting with the iPhone, faster than before, and is a real time saver. I already love her (SIRI).
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    So Siri needs a network connection, how about the others?

    You don't mention it at all.
    • They all need a connection

      @bannedagain Sorru I should have been clearer there. They all need a connection to work.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • I really use Siri....

    ....which is the most important improvement. I've speech tools on my computers for years and never used them because the keyboard and mouse was ALWAYS quicker and less prone to error.

    Though I wouldn't use it in all venues, Siri is my go-to girl in the car and on the move.
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    Actually Siri does not understand your intent, it is just your intent how to see it. Basically pre-programmed response routines that tries to match your words.

    It's like post-birth education: "You should say 'not at all' if you hear someone 'thanking you"
  • RE: Siri understands intent, beats Google Voice Actions, Tellme, and Vlingo

    And now for the difference between closed and open eco systems. A friend came by to show off SIRI on his new 4s. I have in the mean time downloaded 2 free apps for my Droid Bionic, one called Assistant and one called Voice Actions. In every case he tried we got a more satisfying response with Voice Actions than SIRI. In all cases he made the same statement to both phones.

    With great excitment he informed me that if opened the phone app he could actually ask it to dial by voice!

    I was prepared to be wowed by SIRI, but other than some cute responses Voice Actions beat SIRI every time.
  • TellMe doesn't exist

    Microsoft just likes to give its users false hopes on their non-existent technology at the present. In the distant future, perhaps, but not now.