By Jim Karpen on Tue, 01/10/2012
Siri has been a revolution in man/machine interface, with Apple selling millions and millions of iPhone 4S units. Clearly Apple is leading the way, and initial reports are that while there are many voice-controlled devices being shown at CES, none quite matches up to Siri. Although it seems likely that many of these voice initiatiives predated Siri, there is no doubt that the success of Siri has spurred their coming to market.
One of the biggest announcements may be Dragon TV, from Nuance. You can read more on the Boston Herald website. The name "Dragon" may be familiar to you because of the voice app available from Nuance for iOS: Dragon Dictation. Their Dragon TV isn't a TV set but rather a platform available to manufacturers of TV sets and settop boxes so that they can incorporate voice recognition. Couch potatoes won't even need to exert the energy to operate a remote. They'll simply be able to speak in order to change a channel, search for a particular show, or post to Facebook or Twitter.
Of course, quite a number of smart TVs with voice control are already being shown at CES. Samsung's ES8000 LED TV not only offers voice control, but also Kinect-like motion control. You can read more on CNNMoney. And there will even be face recognition. LG is also offering a voice- and motion-controlled TV, which uses Android and can run Android apps. This Google TV platform uses Google's Chrome browser. You can read more on the Consumer Reports. Also, Yahoo has a great article about both TV sets.
So what does all this mean? Is Apple falling behind? Will an Apple TV set be able to compete? No worries, mate. Apple does it better. Nuance is reported to have provided the front end for Siri — that is, the part that recognizes your words and digitizes them. But the key to Siri, its natural language understanding, goes far beyond voice recognition. That's why you don't need to stick to a few specific commands when you talk to Siri.
An Apple TV set should go far beyond these TVs in that it will simply be smarter, because Siri is smarter. Not only is Siri ahead in the game in terms of technology, but the more a technology like this is used, the better it gets. That's because Siri learns as it goes. And no one will ever be able to match Apple's installed base of Siri users. My feeling is that Apple will be in the forefront of natural language understanding for a long time to come. Again, the key is being able to talk to Siri in everyday language rather than being limited to a few specific commands.
Makers of smartphones are also expected to try to catch up with Apple. AppleInsider has a great article on the prominence of voice-controlled products at CES. The article says that smartphone competitors to Siri are expected to arrive in the fall — a year after the arrival of Siri.
Sometimes hot trends at CES fizzle, such as all the hype around 3D TV. But I think that voice recogntiion, and natural language understanding in particular, is only going to accelerate. And one more time Apple is leading the way.