Rumor: Android’s Answer to Siri is Coming Soon

By  |  Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Siri, the virtual assistant built into Apple’s iPhone 4S, seemed to catch competitors off guard. But all along, Google has reportedly been working on its own voice-controlled assistant for Android phones that responds to natural language.

The project is apparently codenamed Majel, and may see an initial release by the end of this year, Android and Me reports, based on unnamed sources. The codename is a reference to the Federation Computer in Star Trek, whose full name is voiced by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

Android already supports voice commands, but the syntax is rigid. If you want to play music, you must say “Listen to…”, and if you want directions, you must say “Navigate to…” What makes Siri so interesting is that it responds to natural language. So if you want to find a place to eat, you could say “I’m in the mood for…” or “Show me some nearby restaurants.” The program picks up on keywords to figure out what the user wants. Reportedly, Majel will have similar capabilities.

The initial release will be limited to search queries, Android and Me’s Taylor Wimberly reports. Presumably that means you’ll be able to find nearby points of interest or get answers to questions, but won’t be able to perform phone actions such as navigation with natural language. Also, Wimberly hedges a bit by saying that January or February is a more realistic time frame for the arrival of Majel.

Although we’re still in rumor territory, Google has previously shown an interest in Star Trek’s ideas. In 2010, when the company acquired Phonetic Arts, whose technology generates computer speech from small voice samples, Google’s Mike Cohen said “we’re confident that together we’ll move a little faster towards that Star Trek future.” More recently, Google’s Android product management director Matias Duarte likened Siri to the droids of Star Wars–essentially, comic relief–whereas his company was inspired by Star Trek, in which everything is voice aware.

From those remarks, we at least know that Google has a vision, but only in vague terms. If the latest rumor is accurate, we may soon get a better idea of what the company is thinking, and how it plans to seriously compete with Apple and Siri.

[This post republished from Techland.]

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. MJPollard Says:

    More nerdiness: as Majel Barrett, she was not only the (uncredited) voice of every Federation computer from The Original Series through 2009’s “Star Trek” (her final role), she played Number One in the first TOS pilot “The Cage,” Nurse Christine Chapel in TOS and several TOS movies, and Lwaxana Troi, the wild and crazy mother of Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Lovely woman, by all accounts; she was as adored by “Star Trek” fans as Elisabeth Sladen (who played Sarah Jane Smith) was by “Doctor Who” fans. Google did right by using her as the code-name for this project, and IMHO they should just keep the name for the eventual final product.

  2. Richard Says:

    Sorry to be a bit nerdy

    Majel Barret – Roddenbury was Gene Roddenbury's wife. In Star Trek she used 2 names as a Producer Majel Roddenbury, but as the computer voice she used Majel Barrett

  3. Jared Newman Says:

    Nerdiness always welcome. Fixed.

  4. joel Says:

    Microsoft offers free phones and training

  5. Jon @ OMG Tech Deals Says:

    baaah i wish they would just release siri as software again!

  6. Terry Floyd Says:

    I've been playing around with Iris, the Siri inspired clone slapped together a few weeks ago in an 8-hour hack-a-thon (alpha available as a free download in the Android Market). It uses the same voice as the standard android navigator, but does seem to have a sense of humor. You press a button, speak a command to Iris and she repeats the command back to you (e.g., "You said, where's that Vietnamese noodle house?"). The text of your question displays on your screen, then she pauses a bit ("hmmmm") before answering. Sometimes she misunderstands and gives you a completely different answer, but sometimes she gets it right. Okay, it's early alpha code, but pretty damned impressive for something that only took 8 hours to put together.

  7. The_Heraclitus Says:

    If you have an accent (IE. Southern, British, et al) you are pretty much SOL with Siri.