The loudest voices
With Siri, Apple (AAPL) is attempting to conquer the feedback issue by designing a service that comes with a charming personality and a sense of humor. This embodiment of Apple's voice service makes it recognizable, tangible, and almost human. Conversing with Siri somehow feels less strange than simply talking to a Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT) device, simply because we're not used to talking to machines. The vision that Apple puts forward for Siri in its ads certainly helps to make talking to your device as if it were a person seem normal, natural, and of course, cool. This is a big contribution for moving voice interaction into the mainstream, but the reality is that Siri still has her shortcomings.
Compare this approach to Google's. Google is a temple to technology, and their services tend to be utilitarian viruses – reliable, efficient, technically impressive, and able to find their ways into all corners of people's lives. But they are not fun, quirky, and idiosyncratic – those are not Google traits. Google Voice Search has all the hallmark traits of other Google services. It makes it a great utility for finding things, but the barrier for engagement will still be higher for most people compared with Siri, simply because it's less human.
There's another key difference between Siri and Google's Voice Search. Siri's promise is to be an "assistant" that helps you get stuff done, not merely a search utility for finding information. This development might in fact come to define a major shift in how technology serves our needs, as the emphasis shifts from finding things to doing things for us. Your partner or best friend tend to help you reach your goals. This human coaching is valued and possible because these people know a lot about you. This knowledge also makes interacting with them pleasurable and rewarding. You don't have to teach them the basics about your preferences all the time, they simply know. In a similar way, in order to become a valuable companion for you, Siri must have contextual smarts – that's the really tricky part.
Siri is already deeply embedded in iOS, and with the help of information like device location and calendar appointments she aims to better understand the individual's intent and personal context.
The next level of intelligence could be derived from the apps that reside on your iOS device. Just the app collection itself can give Siri some useful clues about your interests and habits, but she will become much smarter if she can get access to the data from some of the apps. The Citibank (C) app might tell her where you tend to spend money and how much, the NFL app will tell her what football team you support, Facebook (FB) and LinkedIn (LNKD) could tell her about your friends, job, and colleagues, and Spotify and Netflix (NFLX) will tell her what music and movies you like. Imagine how much better she could serve you if she knew all this.
Nuance Communications, the powerhouse in voice technologies (and the company that helps to power Siri), recently introduced Nina, its own voice solution that appears to be ready to tackle the app integration challenge on an enterprise level. Billed as a "virtual assistant for mobile customer service apps," Nina promises to deliver a more compelling user experience through greater contextual awareness—and therefore a voice assistant that goes further than Siri to bridge the human-computer divide, making tasks like paying bills easy to do just by talking to your mobile phone.