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

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.