There are a lot of bad Siri (s aapl) imitators in the Android Market (s goog), but Monday night a pretty close approximation to Apple’s now-iconic personal assistant will be available. At CES, Nuance Communications (s nuan) is launching an Android version (s GOOG) of Dragon Go, its voice-powered semantic search app.
Nuance developed the speech recognition and natural language technology that powers Siri and many other voice assistant services, but it also maintains its own consumer-facing applications under the Dragon banner. Earlier Monday at CES, Nuance announced Dragon TV, a voice interface platform for televisions and set-top boxes. Dragon Go, however, is hardly an exact approximation of Siri. It can’t integrate with the device’s on-board apps and features, but when it comes to searching for content off the device it can match, if not beat, Siri’s capabilities.
Nuance has a stable of 200 content providers ranging from Dictionary.com to Fandango, to which Dragon Go directs queries once Nuance’s network-based natural-language interpretation engine infers the searcher’s intent. For instance, you could tell Dragon Go to play a particular song by a favorite artist and it would either take you to Spotify, where the song would immediately start playing if you were a premium user, or to Pandora, which would play a preset station of that artist.
Asking Dragon Go for show times for a movie, and it would take you to Fandango, where the nearest theaters and their movies schedules would be listed, giving you the option to immediately by tickets. Like Siri, Dragon Go can access Wolfram Alpha to provide answers to scientific or technical questions. For more general trivia or current events questions, it links to Ask.com.
Launching on Android is a bit different than on iOS since Nuance has to test its app for each iteration of the OS. While Nuance said Dragon Go should work on any Android phone, certain features like its media player have to be optimized on a device-by-device basis. So far the list of optimized phones includes: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus S and Galaxy S II, the Motorola (s mime) Razr, Droid X and Droid 3, and the HTC Droid Incredible and MyTouch 4G.
Of course, there are plenty of other voice assistants available on Android. Vlingo’s Virtual Assistant performs many of the in-app functions that Siri can and Dragon Go can’t, but now that Nuance is buying Vlingo, it won’t be a competitor much longer. There is also Google’s Voice Actions, but as Kevin Tofel pointed out in his recent comparison between Siri and Voice Actions, there’s not much to compare. Google recognizes specific pre-determined commands, while services like Siri, Dragon Go and Vlingo can infer meaning from natural speech.
Nuance is extending voice and semantic search anywhere it can find a niche, from cars to Websites. Dragon TV marks its latest foray into a new realm of consumer electronics, one that is rather fitting considering how many people like to yell at their TVs. Unlike Dragon Go, a consumer simply can’t download the TV app onto their living room sets, but Nuance hopes to work with connected TV manufacturers, set-top box, and cable service providers to embed its platform in their products.
Dragon TV will work much the same way as Nuance’s other consumer-facing apps, taking in natural language speech commands and spitting out the intended results. For instance, a couch potato could say “go to PBS” and immediately be switched to the local affiliate or “record Dexter” to digitally tape the next scheduled recording of that show. The platform can understand more complex commands, such as “find comedies starring Vince Vaughn,” and even implement Siri-like requests such as sending text messages from the TV or updating a Face book status.