I’m having trouble wrapping my head around Andy Rubin’s dismissal of Siri, the virtual assistant built into Apple’s iPhone 4S. Here’s what Rubin, Google’s senior vice president of mobile, told Ina Fried during the Asia D conference in Hong Kong:
“I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant,” he said. “Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.”
A few thoughts:
- The smartphone is a descendant of the PDA, which stands for Personal Digital Assistant. So there’s that.
- Android already has voice commands in it (“listen to,” “navigate to” and so on). The essential difference is that Android’s voice commands are harder to access because you have to memorize the syntax.
- Siri’s main purpose is to make certain tasks easier by letting people talk and listen instead of look and type. That’s it. By thinking of Siri in terms of who is communicating with whom, Rubin is missing the point of why the technology is important.
I understand that tech companies aren’t supposed to praise the competition. No one expects Rubin to go ga-ga over Siri. But when the guy who oversees Android, the world’s biggest smartphone platform, blows off the idea of natural voice interaction with a computer, it’s flabbergasting. And disappointing.
I mean, seriously, Andy. Please grasp the importance of an almost-AI in your pocket. Tell me you’re doing that thing Steve Jobs did where he would pretend to dismiss something, but was actually subtly suggesting how Apple’s implementation would be even better. Because I’d hate to think that the higher-ups at Google took one look at Siri and decided that they weren’t interested in the concept.