Android Head: Your Phone Shouldn’t Be Your Personal Assistant

| Analysis

Andy Rubin, head of Google’s Android operating system, doesn’t think Apple is on the right track with its Siri technology. In an interview with AllThingsD following his appearance at AsiaD, Mr. Rubin told the site that phones should be used for talking to other people, not as your personal assistant.

“I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant,” Mr. Rubin said. “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.”

Android will not be your slave!

Android will not be your slave!

He also said that voice command on smartphones, “isn’t a new notion. In projecting the future, I think Apple did a good job of figuring out when the technology was ready to be consumer-grade.”

What is most ironic about this is that until the release of Siri on Apple’s new iPhone 4S, Android offered the most advanced voice command features in the smartphone market. The company’s Voice Actions for Android allow Android users to send text messages, get directions, call contacts, view a map, write a note, listen to music, call businesses, send e-mail, go to websites, and search Google

When introduced, those features were quite impressive and far ahead of anything that could be done with an iPhone in the way of voice command. Indeed, Google Voice Actions is still impressive, it’s just not as impressive as Siri, which does everything Google Voice Actions does, and then some, and it allows the use of natural language to get it done.

In other words, it’s passing strange that Mr. Rubin would denigrate the idea of your phone becoming your assistant when Google itself was (and is) heading down that same path. Such is the nature of competition, however, and as we have often discussed, no less a personage than the late Steve Jobs was better at putting down features or services where Apple didn’t compete and then singing their praises once Apple was ready to enter that market (“It’s about the music, stupid”).

The reality is that Siri leapfrogged Voice Actions for Android, and it remains to be seen if Google will be able to catch up to Siri, let alone leapfrog it. Siri is backed by several key patents, and Apple has licensed Nuance’s speech recognition technology, which is also protected by some very powerful patents owned by that company.

Still, it would never do to discount Google. The company has vast resources, amazing server capacity, and a host of very bright and talented engineers. As consumers, we would all come out winners if Google decided to go to war with Apple over voice commands, pushing each other to innovate in the process. If we’re lucky, that’s what Mr. Rubin’s dismissal really means.

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28 Comments Leave Your Own

Adrian Hoe

Now, who can’t taste the grape but says the grape is sour?

Lee Dronick

Great graphic Bryan!

Android Head? Is that like a pot head?

Cynical Kiwi

And with that Google closed the Android App Store because a device that’s just used for communicating obviously doesn’t need apps…

Tiger

Did his head asplode when he said that out loud???

You have got to be kidding me. He’s so last century. And I guess he’s never heard of FaceTime or Skype either…the apps you use to talk to someone face to face.

Just keep him right where he is Google. He’s your biggest asset!!!!!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

There are two parts to speech recognition. One is recognizing the words. The other is putting the words together and parsing the meaning of the speaker.

On the first part, Google owns, and not just with people with beautiful California accents speaking American English. They do quite well with thick accented speakers too. This comes from the amount of training they have been able to do with GOOG-411 last decade and transcribed voicemail in the past couple of years.

It’s the second part where Siri is impressive. But there are a couple apps which find an interesting middle between Google’s Voice Actions and Siri. Check out Voice Actions by Pannous. The paid version also has a conversational mode. This app simply uses Google’s network based VR, but implements an extensive grammar.

BTW, we would really win if Apple made a Siri app for Android and Apple would allow Google-powered voice apps on its platform.

Substance

I can’t help but think that what Andy really means is that instead of communicating with Siri to get things for you, you should be communicating with Google instead. 

There’s several of us at my job that are questioning if Siri is going to significantly cut into the need to use Google, at least on a mobile device. (At least for now. What if Siri comes to Mac OS X 10.8?)

I’ve got to believe that Siri has executives at Google in a panic.

webjprgm

There?s several of us at my job that are questioning if Siri is going to significantly cut into the need to use Google, at least on a mobile device. (At least for now. What if Siri comes to Mac OS X 10.8?)

I?ve got to believe that Siri has executives at Google in a panic.

Because they can’t track you and they can’t show you ads.  Yes, very good point.  All you privacy advocates, start using Siri for all your searches!

Nemo

Let me translate Mr. Rubin’s remarks:  We at Google are scared to goddamn death that Siri is the future, especially so because we haven’t figured out how to copy it without Apple’s lawyers disemboweling us.

So Google’s Android is for now stuck with its voice commands.  Well, voice commands are just verbal icons; they aren’t AI.  Siri is the first consumer-grade AI, and it is only at the beginning of its evolution.  Thus, Google must either start developing AI for Android from scratch, or it must find some decent AI tech that it can buy, but it daren’t try to infringe on Apple’s Siri IP. 

The Valley scuttlebutt on Siri was strong and pervasive.  Could Google actually have not seen this coming?  I don’t think so.  I think that Google simply couldn’t answer Siri, at least not in the nearly two years that Apple has taken to get Siri ready for consumers.  AI is hard stuff, and unless you can license or steal good AI technology, it is, therefore, highly unlikely that Google would be able to do AI in less than two years, if that soon.  And may not be able to do practical AI at all, if it can’t get around the Siri and Nuance patents.

So what is Google to do.  Well, it can hope that Apple’s senior management and its Board lose their individual and collective minds and license Siri to Google for use in Android as Bosco suggests, supra.  Let’s consider that idea further.  According to Bosco Apple should license Siri to Google, because we would all win.  Who is that we that Bosco is referring to?  Certainly Google would win, because it would get AI technology for Android so that it can compete against Apple’s current and future Siri enabled devices, and consumers might win because of increased competition.  But Apple would surely lose, because it would be forgoing a huge competitive advantage for its computing devices in the markets for computing devices. 

Is Apple obliged to provide such a benefit to either consumers or Google at such a great costs to itself?  Of course, it isn’t.  When a company innovates in a way that is protected by intellectual property (IP), it is not obliged to transfer its IP to its competitors so that they can better compete with it, nor is it required transfer its IP to competitors so that consumers get lower prices, because a person/company is legally and morally entitled to monopoly rights in its innovations for a limited time so that it alone can enjoy the benefits of its IP.  Also, consumers benefit by getting IP that they would not have otherwise received, because without the incentive of the award of their monopoly rights in their respective IP, neither Apple or, for that matter, the vast majority of other inventors would find it worth their while to invent anything.

So what Bosco is proposing is that Apple, in a manner that is contrary to reason and bad public policy, provide a benefit to Google, its ferocious competitor, and to consumers, which neither are entitled to, and which would be an instance of bad public policy, where Apple’s investments in Siri would be earn far less than they should, if not be utterly wasted.  I think that Apple should instead follow Google’s example of not licensing Android’s voice commands or any other of Android’s proprietary IP to any competitor but retaining those for its own exclusive use.  However, I don’t think Apple should completely make Google its model, because Apple should not adopt the habit of expropriate or enabling others to expropriate others’ IP without permission to do so.

Nemo

Dear Substance:  You raise and excellent point, because one of the things that most terrifies Google about Siri is that it will not only allow other services to replace Google’s search and other services but will also deprive Google of its much precious commodity, its users’ personal and private data, which it sells to advertiser, marketers, and anyone else who can pay to target those users.  Siri, thus, is a significant threat to Google’s business model. 

By how much Siri will impact Google only time will tell, but it is clear that once again the late Steve Jobs was playing the game on multiple strategic levels well above the heads of Google’s leaders.  Jobs was both about the business of creating the AI, voice UI of future and simultaneously putting together a collection of services, specialized databases, that not only compete with Google’s services but provide better services than Google provides, because they are so specialized.  Wolfram Alpha, for example, is in many way better than Google’s search, because it too is AI; Yelp is also more specific, and so too for other services.

In addition, these alternative services now have a platform where they can compete with Google, which is something that they didn’t have before, as Google excluded them from its platforms, if it couldn’t buy them on the cheap.  Yelp and Wolfram Alpha must be rejoicing, and there will be more rejoicing as other services exploit Siri to compete against Google.  Now, that is a real win for consumers.

So Siri is a potential nightmare for Google in so many ways, and that Google let Apple get it for, I think, a mere $100 million, shows that Google simply wasn’t playing on Steve Jobs’ level; it was Jobs, an International Grandmaster, against a player, Google, which barely ranks at master’s level.

RonMacGuy

Great points, Nemo. Also, the beauty of Siri is that they can continually improve it behind-the-scenes by adding new services and capabilities without significantly changing the interface.

These improvements are happening already. When I first started using Siri its pronunciation of my wife’s name ‘Tonya’ was ‘Tone eya’ - way off. It was so bad I was researching how to send a request to update Siri with a better pronunciation. But yesterday, when I said to text my wife, it came back with a much-improved pronunciation of ‘Tonya’. Amazing. Not sure if it was recognized on the server side that there was a better way to say ‘Tonya’, or based on the way I kept pronouncing it on my side, but it is almost perfect now.

For it to be as good now as it is, I can’t imagine how great it will be in a year.

Nemo

Dear RonMacGuy:  Siri will both learn to do what it does better, and as Apple adds new services, Siri will acquire new capabilities and become more useful and smarter.

mrmwebmax

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BTW, we would really win if Apple made a Siri app for Android and Apple would allow Google-powered voice apps on its platform.

Aside from the excellent points that Nemo has already made, I’ll add these. Siri isn’t just an “app,” per se. Siri is powered by the cloud—by Apple’s servers. That’s where the AI magic takes place—on Apple’s servers—not within the Siri app itself. So are you suggesting that Apple make an Android Siri app that also communicates with Apple’s servers? And Apple’s motive for doing so would be what, exactly?

As for Apple allowing Google-powered voice apps on iOS? Again, why? Why would Apple want such apps on iOS when it already has the superior Siri? For better language recognition? If Siri has inferior language recognition to Google voice apps, Apple would much rather improve upon Siri’s voice recognition capabilities, rather than offer iOS consumers with a confusing array of voice apps that would only fragment this new aspect of iOS.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

So are you suggesting that Apple make an Android Siri app that also communicates with Apple?s servers? And Apple?s motive for doing so would be what, exactly?

Presumably, Apple is monetizing the Siri service somehow. It’s definitely not a cheap service to provide, so as users, you should really hope they have more skin in the game than a cost added to your next phone purchase or a paid iCloud membership. My general point above is that speech recognition has actually been very well understood for many years, and its effectiveness is driven by network effects. More inputs to the system—> more rules in the system—> better results.

Let’s say, for example, that Apple takes a local advertising angle with Siri. “I need to get flowers for my girlfriend.” turns into a recommendation for a particular flower shop in your town. To answer mrmgraphics’ question. Let’s assume Apple can roll Siri out to it’s entire iPhone using base. Those ads reach almost 3x as many people if they also roll it out to the Android base, making them more valuable local ad sales for Apple. Fundamentally, this is where iAd pretty much choked as Android quickly overtook iPhone in market share. Why do things Apple’s PITA way and reach 1/4 of smartphone users, when you could use a cross-platform ad platform and reach everyone?

Nemo

Dear mrmgraphics.  The executive who developed Siri at SRI said that voice recognition in Siri is modular so that Apple can plug in whatever voice recognition model that is available and that best suits its purposed.  In licensing Nuance’s voice recognition for Siri, Apple has licensed the best voice module that’s available and the one that has the best portfolio of voice recognition IP.  So while Google’s voice recognition IP is good, Nuance’s is generally viewed as better.  And Google had no chance of working with Nuance, because—You guessed it—Nuance is in a dispute, which is not yet a lawsuit, over Google expropriating Nuance’s IP without permission.

I am really going to have to have a talk with Tim Cook about Apple’s peculiar habit of licensing others’ IP, because Google and its Android OEMs’ example suggest that such expensive fastidiousness may not be necessary.

mrmwebmax

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Presumably, Apple is monetizing the Siri service somehow. It?s definitely not a cheap service to provide, so as users, you should really hope they have more skin in the game than a cost added to your next phone purchase or a paid iCloud membership. My general point above is that speech recognition has actually been very well understood for many years, and its effectiveness is driven by network effects. More inputs to the system?> more rules in the system?> better results.

Let?s say, for example, that Apple takes a local advertising angle with Siri. ?I need to get flowers for my girlfriend.? turns into a recommendation for a particular flower shop in your town. To answer mrmgraphics? question. Let?s assume Apple can roll Siri out to it?s entire iPhone using base. Those ads reach almost 3x as many people if they also roll it out to the Android base, making them more valuable local ad sales for Apple. Fundamentally, this is where iAd pretty much choked as Android quickly overtook iPhone in market share. Why do things Apple?s PITA way and reach 1/4 of smartphone users, when you could use a cross-platform ad platform and reach everyone?

Bosco, your arguments make perfect sense…if you’re Google. You’re arguing Google’s ad-based business model, which works perfectly for Google. But that’s not Apple’s business model…not even close.

How does Apple monetize Siri? By selling iPhone 4S handsets. Apple makes about half of its money from selling iPhones, and Siri makes the 4S the most attractive model yet. I’m eligible for an upgrade in December, and will upgrade from my 4 to a 4S largely because of Siri. Four million people have already purchased the 4S, and that’s where the money is for Apple. That’s their business model: profiting from hardware, tied to software and services. By sharing Siri, they would dilute their own business model and weaken profits by giving Android handsets what is currently a unique feature (and thus selling point) for iPhone 4S.

Nemo

Dear Bosco:  You haven’t been paying attention.  With Siri, we are talking about much more than mere speech recognition; we are talking about the first mass-market, consumer-grade AI.  And while AI, does benefit from increased frequency of use by a variety of users, Apple will get more than enough of that from its own base of Siri users, because after you reach at certain scale, the returns from additional network training effects rapidly diminishes to zero. Let me remind you that Apple sold four million iPhone 4S in a weekend, and that rate of sales by all account hasn’t diminished, and Apple has yet to roll Siri out to most of its international markets.  So it is clear that the additional benefit that Google’s Android could offer Apple’s Siri in terms of network training effect either for Siri’s voice or AI functions is zero.

So rather than surrender its immensely valuable competitive advantage for the zero returns for adding Google’s network effects and/or the comparatively meager from charging Google to run Siri on Google’s Android devices and servers, Apple is much better served by sticking with its and Google’s traditional approach of exclusively exploiting their respective IP, in the instant case Apple’s Siri, to earn above average rents from their respective competitive advantages that their respective IP gives each of them in the market. 

And in the bargain, Apple can also protects its users’ privacy, as it does now, by enforcing its privacy policy rather than accepting Google’s privacy policy, which would permit Google to trade the personal and private data of Apple’s customers without their meaningful consent.

Unfortunately for Google, it has nothing answer the immense competitive advantage of Siri’s AI, voice-enabled UI.  Well, Google decided to threaten Apple’s iOS device business by providing Android and quite possibly others’ IP in Android for free.  Well, from just before the grave, the Master has delivered one of his final master strokes which not only imperils Google with iOS devices that offer a voice and AI-enabled UI that nothing in Android can match; he also has enabled third party competing services that can now effectively compete against Google.  For example, I will soon be able to go directly to FTD, skipping Google’s search, to find a local florist to order flower for my girlfriend.  Oops, that’s right; I can do that now on Siri.  And a lot of others will soon be signing up for Siri to get out from under Google’s thumb. 

Google tried to destroy Apple’s iPhone and iOS based devices by providing a mobile OS, Android, with severe IP problems for free, now it shall reap the whirlwind.  And Apple won’t shelter Google from that whirlwind by licensing Siri to it.

So you idea, Bosco, is a bad one, because network training by adding Google adds nothing to Siri’s AI and/or voice recognition capabilities, would costs Apple far more in revenue from selling its Siri enabled devices than it could earn from charging Google for Siri, and would force Apple to sacrifice its users’ privacy in ways that are an anathema to Apple’s values and to the spirit of its late, great leader Steve Jobs.

Nemo

Dear mrmgraphics:  Apple is probably more directly monetizing Siri by charging other services to be on it.  That is not only far more lucrative going through Google and Android, middlemen that add no value; it also permits Apple to set its own terms of trade and, thus, eliminate dependence on others, such as Google, and, inter alia, enforce its own privacy policy.

Nemo

And get a load of this.  Apple’s two year old iPhone 3GS is out selling every other non-iPhone device, that includes Android devices, on AT&T’s network.  So much for those cheap Android phones capturing market share.  Those days are over.  See http://www.electronista.com/articles/11/10/20/att.gets.rush.of.demand.after.free.iphone.3gs/

I don’t think that Larry Page is having fun these days.

mrmwebmax

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Dear mrmgraphics:? Apple is probably more directly monetizing Siri by charging other services to be on it.? That is not only far more lucrative going through Google and Android, middlemen that add no value; it also permits Apple to set its own terms of trade and, thus, eliminate dependence on others, such as Google, and, inter alia, enforce its own privacy policy.

So Apple is charging, say Wolfram Alpha and Yelp! to be part of Siri? If that’s the case, how would either service profit from their paid participation? (I don’t have my 4S yet, so I’m unaware of how either service works via Siri.)

eolake

That’s about the stupidest put-down I’ve heard.
2017: “Apple’s new iPhone 9 will kiss you goodnight and tuck you in, and wake you with a bj and breakfast in bed. This is so wrooong! A phone is for calling people, it’s not for being your maid!”

MacFrogger

Wow!  I’d like to compliment everyone here for a relatively civil discussion over the pros/cons of Apple making Siri available on Android.

For the record: I’m in agreement with Nemo et al - it is in Apple’s interest NOT to share what has obviously been a major multi-year internal devp effort. But frankly, also in part because Google did not share its best with iOS users (e.g. spoken turn-by-turn directions in the iOS version of Google Maps).

Nemo

Dear mrmgraphics:  I am guessing, and this only a guess, that Apple is providing Wolfram and other services with aggregated consumers data or splitting revenue from aggregated consumer data with them.  But those sharp analysts at Apple’s 18 October earnings call forgot to ask Tim Cook how, if at all, Apple is generating or will generate revenue that accrues to Siri.

Paul Goodwin

eolake. If all people wanted was a phone, they’d just get the cheap free ones that the communications companies give away just for signing up. People want iPods, personal organizers, browsers, memo takers, and now AI to integrate things on one piece of hardware that you can fit in your pocket. We’ve waiting for years for the technologies to develop that allow you to carry an AI machine, and be cheap enough to actually own. As for 2017, if someone is making a stoverator with a wireless interface, Siri may just make your breakfast for you. A BJ? Well, the iPhone already has a vibrator, and I’m sure some knucklehead will write an app.

webjprgm

Apple is clearly monetizing this with unit sales. If they we’re getting ad revenue or partner service fees (which, as mentioned above, doesn’t seem beneficial to Wolfram et al) then they would push Siri to all iOS devices. Instead they have it only on iPhone 4S to push new unit sales. Long term they may plan targeted results revenue, but I do t think they are doing that now.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Apple is clearly monetizing this with unit sales.

I agree. If “privacy” is so baked into Apple’s DNA as Nemo claims, this will simply put Siri in a pair handcuffs. The left silver bracelet will be supporting revenue. The right silver bracelet will be diminished network effects on the maturity of the technology. And the chain between will be the lack of commercial input when commercial input is desired, i.e. “Siri, I need to get flowers for my wife.”

Language and knowledge are inherently social. Apple made a strong technology play with Siri. But it really has the economics of it inside-out. Good enough speech recognition and parsing, paired with a more open global data set will be more useful and relevant.

matt_s

What is most ironic about this is that until the release of Siri on Apple?s new iPhone 4S, Android offered the most advanced voice command features in the smartphone market.

Nope. What’s most ironicis that had Schmidt not sat on the Apple BoD & learned all about the plans and development for the iPhone, and then left, stole and took it with him to Google, the Droid phone market would not exist today.

Lee Dronick

Nope. What?s most ironicis that had Schmidt not sat on the Apple BoD & learned all about the plans and development for the iPhone, and then left, stole and took it with him to Google, the Droid phone market would not exist today.

See this story at Ars Technica, Steve was really ticked and threatened to go nuclear on Google for ripping off the iPhone.

gnasher729

Bosco doesn’t get it, but Andy Rubin does: This is payback time.

TomTom sells navigation devices. Google sells advertisements. Because Google sells advertisements they can afford to give away navigation for free, as long as it helps selling more ads. Which is tough if you are TomTom.

Google sells advertisements. Apple sells iPhones. Because Apple sells iPhones they can afford to give away services that Google uses to sell advertisements, as long as it helps selling more iPhones. Which is tough if you are Google.

Let’s face it, Google search is crap. You search for anything, you are sent to a dozen link farms, a dozen companies who pretend they are selling what you are searching for (search for dinosaur eggs, get a link that offers to sell you dinosaur eggs, new or used, for 70% below retail price). Search for a hotel by name because you want info about that hotel, they send you to travel sites offering you cheap rooms at a dozen different hotels. Google has to produce the crap to sell adverts. Apple could produce search without adverts, giving you actually decent results, exclusive to Apple devices, and make a ton selling more devices.

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