When it was announced in October, one of the headline features of Apple's iPhone 4S was Siri, an "intelligent assistant" which answers spoken questions and takes orders given in natural English. It was less like Google's Voice Actions for Android, an app which understands a limited set of specific commands, and more like the computers on Star Trek.
Not exactly like them. Its limited vocabulary includes facetious, canned responses to questions like "What is the meaning of life?" which Internet comedians have exploited. Meanwhile, noted feminist writer Amanda Marcotte has observed "Siri is an electronic version of a [female] secretary," and that its answers to questions about women's health issues are very unhelpful ... especially compared to its answers for men who want to solicit sex workers.
Despite these issues -- and outages that have affected Siri's network service on and off since November -- Siri remains one of the iPhone 4S' "killer features," and is heavily promoted on Apple's official website for the iPhone. Google is even said to be trying to make its own alternative to Siri, code-named Majel (after the actress who voiced the "Star Trek" computers), according to Taylor Wimberley of Android and Me.
Google's not the only company that's working on an Android version of Siri, though. In fact, there are already several apps on the Android market that take natural-language commands. Here are a few of them.
Its name is "Siri" spelled backward, and its logo looks like a blue version of the HAL 9000 computer from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." But Iris was the first Android app created in response to Siri, and it has now been downloaded more than a million times since it was first written within hours of Siri's announcement.
Iris is still in the "alpha" stages of testing, though, and while it's received a number of 5-star reviews from enthusiasts calling it "Very fun" others have noted that its usefulness remains limited.
Skyvi bills itself as "Siri for Android," even though it is not produced by or affiliated with Apple. It's received a larger proportion of 5-star reviews than Iris, though, and at least one reviewer has noted that it "holds a conversation better than Siri." Others, however, note that it does not allow you to send texts or make phone calls to your contacts, and "Doesn't have the best reminders either."
The "Vlingo Virtual Assistant" bills itself as "the original," and has been critically acclaimed by both CNet and the Wall Street Journal. Both reviews were written in early 2010, however, a year and a half before Siri was released, and the WSJ one is called "A Safer Way to Text on the Road."
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