Apple kick-started the mobile digital assistant thing with Siri some years ago, but it's Google who mostly run the machine learning show, with its creepily efficient Google Now service. Based on its jobs postings, Apple wants to play some catch-up ball.
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There's a rumour that Apple will be redesigning Siri to better resemble its colourful Watch version. Cool. But with Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana getting a lot of development attention on their platforms, including a male version of Cortana, Siri probably needs more than just an interface overhaul. In fact, there's annoying shit endemic to all of the "intelligent" assistants. What would you fix first?
The not-quite human voice that emanates from your phone or GPS or other device is, more often than not, female. It's an obvious pattern, and one that many have claimed has a simple technical explanation: Female voices are easier to understand. The only problem is that it's not true.
Siri, Cortana and Alexa are robotic personal assistants, but they are also women. They live in your pockets, their skinny smart phone bodies executing your every command. They are intimate with you. But they are also, as Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore said at the Windows 10 keynote last week, "a member of your family."
Yesterday, Amazon announced Echo, a Bluetooth speaker slash voice-controlled personal assistant, an omnipresent Siri that sits in your living room and answers whatever questions you might throw at it. So, clearly, Amazon thinks that voice control is cool enough to warrant a standalone product. I'm just wondering who actually uses the damn thing.
For most of us, Siri or Google Now (or Cortana, if you swing that way) is a minor help at best, a first-world solution to the first-world problem of not being able to text and drive. But as Judith Newman illustrates today in a heartfelt and heart-warming piece in the New York Times, Apple's digital assistant has become a lifeline for her autistic son.
If you really want to be able to emulate the characters in Apple's promotional videos, then you need to be able to tell Siri to "call mum" and "email dad." Thanks to the custom label field built into iCloud contacts, you can assign any kind of relationship to people you know. Tell Siri about your best friend, your boss, and your arch-enemy and you can control the virtual assistant more easily with your voice.
Cortana is Windows Phone's answer to Siri and Google Now: A voice-activated artificially intelligent personal assistant with an only slightly off-putting robot voice. Technically, she's still in beta on Windows 8.1, but PhoneBuff is here to show us 50 things Cortana can already do.