Apple’s iPhone 4S Siri voice assistant – a built-in artificially intelligent assistant that responds to spoken queries and commands – certainly wowed the crowds, but it wasn’t new: Siri Assistant was available as a stand-alone app for iOS devices before Apple bought the company in 2010.
Meanwhile, other companies have been producing equivalents for rival platforms – including interactivity experts Speaktoit. The Speaktoit Assistant is available right now on Android 2.1 and higher devices, but can it hold a torch to Apple’s Siri?
What it promises
Like Apple’s Siri, Speaktoit aims to make using your phone more natural. Tying in to Google’s speech recognition and synthesis engines, Speaktoit translates your questions into a format it can understand and attempts to figure out what you’re trying to do.
Thanks to its farming out of the heavy lifting, the app itself is quite small: at 1.9MB, it’s not something that even older Android handsets should struggle to run. The performance is also more than acceptable, although – just like Siri – it requires an active Wi-Fi or mobile data connection in order to operate.
The main feature of Speaktoit is its ability to handle natural language queries. Rather than having to talk to it like a computer, it’s supposedly able to parse surprisingly complex commands. While it’s happy answering simple sentences like “What’s the weather like?”, it can also deal with more complex queries like “I need to buy tickets to see Cats,” automatically figuring out what it can do to help.
In use, this works surprisingly well: telling Speaktoit to let your friends know what you’re doing will post an update to Twitter or Facebook, for example, while queries about locations, weather and time tie in to the handset’s current GPS location.
Where Speaktoit falls down, however, is in accuracy: while it’s not the fault of the software itself, the Google speech-to-text engine on which the package relies isn’t always totally accurate. The ability to call a person by speaking their name is theoretically handy, but unless your contact has a common name like ‘John Smith’, you can expect it to miss the mark more often than not.
It also won’t work if your network connection is down, resulting in a somewhat unhelpful generic error message as it tries and fails to access Google’s speech-to-text servers.
That’s not to say that Speaktoit doesn’t work: when it does pick up what you’re aiming to do – which is most of the time for sentences comprising common words – it works like a charm, easily matching Apple’s Siri demonstration for impressing friends and coworkers.
Another feature up Speaktoit’s sleeve is the use of a cartoon ‘avatar’ to give your phone more of a personality. Available in male or female form – with the female version having something of an aversion to covering up her cleavage – the avatar is customisable to create a character to whom you’re comfortable talking.
The ability to customise the look of the app – including choosing a simple microphone image, if you’d rather not have a cartoon hotty on your handset – is neat, and while the animation is simple, it adds an extra layer missing from Apple’s equivalent.
Contact: Available from the Android Market
- It's Siri, only free, available now, for Android, with a friendly face.
- Realistically, it's little more than a neat toy.
While it's true that Apple's Siri appears - from the demonstrations, at least - to be somewhat more powerful than Speaktoit Assistant, there's at least two things going for Speaktoit's offering: it's available right now on existing smartphones, and it's free.
Will it replace poking at the screen with your fingers for the majority of operations? No, and especially not if you use your phone in public. Is it worth installing just to show off to your iPhone-owning friends in an "anything you can do, I can do better" sort of way? Absolutely yes, and unless Speaktoit chooses to charge for the software it'll remain a fun toy for all Android 2.1 and higher devices.