Android’s Iris Voice App Takes Aim At Apple’s Siri

Apple’s Siri intelligent assistant now has Android competition from the cheekily named ‘Iris’ app

Steve Jobs would not have been happy to hear that the Android community has responded to Apple’s Siri with the very cheekily named ‘Iris’ (Siri spelt backwards).

Siri was revealed to the world when Apple launched its iPhone 4S. Essentially it is a voice activated intelligent personal assistant, that allows users to speak into their phone to have it find certain information and conduct other tasks, such as sending a text message, or finding the nearest restaurant.

But Android has hit back, and hit back quickly, with an suitable alternative for Android phone users.

Google Voice Actions

Of course Google has offered similar voice control and speech recognition technology for Android phones, called Google Voice Actions, since August 2010. Google Voice Actions let users call businesses and contacts, send texts and email, listen to music, and browse the web by speaking into their phone.

But Siri raised the stakes because it goes beyond simple task conduction and completion. It lends context to certain actions.

For example if an iPhone user were to ask Siri about the weather, it would provide the localised weather forecast by utilising the user’s current location. Or the user can ask Siri if they need an umbrella, and it will check local weather information to determine whether it is going to rain.

Android’s response to this was ‘Iris’, which was reportedly developed in just eight hours by Android developer Narayan Babu and his team at Dexetra. Like Siri, it understands the questions you ask by voice and then verbally fires out answers, but like Siri, it is not always right.

These rough patches are to be expected because of its eight hour build time, and the app is currently in early Alpha stage, and is free of charge in the Android Market.

Crazy Belief

The thinking behind the creation of Iris was explained by Babu in a Dexetra blog posting.

“It started out as a lazy Friday with half our team missing, the influx of tweets and posts on the ‘Awesome Siri’ were flying everywhere,” wrote Babu. “Suddenly, I got the urge to do something similar for Android. Since we have been working on NLP and Machine learning for over an year now, I had a crazy belief that I could pull this off. Somehow I managed to write a tiny engine that could answer your questions, digging the results from the web.

“When we started seeing results, everyone got excited and started a high speed coding race,” he wrote. “In no time, we added Voice input, Text-to-speech, also a lot of hueristic humour into Iris. Not until late evening we decided on the name “iris.”, which would be Siri in reverse. And we also reverse engineered a crazy expansion – Intelligent Rival Imitator of Siri. We were still in the fun mode, but when we started using it the results were actually good, really good.”

Jobs Loathing

It remains to be seen how Apple will respond to this.

The biography of the late Steve Jobs revealed his deep-seated hatred of Android, which he believed was a baltant copy of Apple iOS.

Indeed, Jobs considered Android phones to be “grand theft” and vowed to “right this wrong” if it took him till his dying breath.

Apple has not been shy about involving the lawyers, and has been conducting a series of anti-Android and anti-tablet lawsuits, most notably against Samsung and HTC.