Sorry Andy, the Future Is Voice Dictation

Andy Rubin doesn’t think we should be talking to our phones. Yes, okay Andy, you are entitled to your opinion — however wrong it may be.

I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant. 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. (Via All Things D)

Since the 80s, many companies have been pouring millions of dollars into developing voice dictation software. All you need to do is look at IBM’s history to get a good sense of that. Clearly, many people see the value in intelligent voice dictation, otherwise we couldn’t be bothered to continually strive to find the holy grail in the technology. However successful previous attempts have been — this includes Google — Apple’s foray into voice dictation territory with Siri has garnered quite a lot of attention, from both the media and tech pundits alike. We all know Apple wasn’t the first company to come up with reasonably good voice dictation technology, but that’s not what matters. Yes, Android has had this baked into its OS, and I can say from experience that it is pretty decent — much better so than what we had prior to Siri on the iPhone 4S.

Siri brings to us for the first time — the mainstream audience of consumers — an admittedly simple, yet delightfully intelligent voice dictation system. Apple has labelled this feature as ‘beta,’ which should not be taken lightly. For Apple to release a major feature in its OS and label it beta, it would have to be polished and just work. Typically for Apple, beta means, “it’s just not as robust as we’d like right now.” In fact, when Scott Forstall demo’d Siri at the Oct 12th keynote even, he stated Siri is beta; however he concluded that beta really meant they had limited language support on first release. So I believe this is a fair way to describe how Apple determines what public beta software is, and should be.

Over the next 12 months, I expect Apple to relentlessly continue iterating on Siri. This doesn’t change the fact that for the first time, people will actually have an interest in talking to their phones. Not because this is some whiz bang new feature they’ve never seen before, but because it actually is useful, and improves their lives in a very important and meaningful way. For years I’ve been waiting for someone really come up with a breakthrough in voice dictation, especially on mobile phones. I’ve only used it a few times on my iPhone 4, but that’s because it’s completely useless and doesn’t work properly. I know some people feel embarrassed to talk to their smartphones in public, and I’ll include myself in that group. But I believe that’s only because prior to the iPhone 4S, the technology simply wasn’t there yet. When you have to yell into your phone, speaking slowly and making sure you enunciate properly, it’s no wonder that most would be embarrassed to do this in a public setting.

Apparently I’m not the only person that disagrees with Rubin as well:

But we are always communicating an intent to the phone. Siri is just a more natural way than tapping buttons. Andy is wrong. (@Roelandinho Via Twitter)

John Gruber via Daring Fireball doesn’t seem surprised by Rubin’s comments on Siri:

The ante has been raised, and the correct play is for Google to downplay Siri’s relevance until they feel they’re competitive. This is like Steve Jobs dismissing video-playing iPods, claiming that no one wants to watch movies or TV shows on a handheld display, one year before Apple shipped video-playing iPods.

I don’t believe down playing a competitors superior feature is necessarily a good approach. Nor is bashing your competitors products or features either. I know Rubin is a very intelligent person, however, I would have more respect for him if he simply commended Apple on continuing to push forward on voice dictation technology, and that Google is also working hard on this particular area as well (which they are). It takes a humble and confident person to acknowledge others good work, and that’s something I would have liked to see him do. It’s plain as day that Google’s mobile devision has a huge stake in this technology, and probably will for the foreseeable future.

Google obviously believes that it needs to continue to work hard on iterating their own voice dictation technology. With the announcement of the Android 4.0 — another flavour of desert: Ice Cream Sandwich — one of the major enhancements to Android is a supposedly huge improvement to its voice dictation component.

Joshua Topolsky via Thisismynext:

The company has also improved its voice input significantly, offering near-realtime dictation, and making it easier to correct listening mistakes.

All of the work done on Ice Cream Sandwich’s dictation improvements seems to go against Rubin’s own thoughts on how we should be using our smartphones. So that’s what I’ll take this as, his own thoughts. He doesn’t speak for how the entire Android development team feels, however, he sure is the ‘voice’ of the team isn’t he.