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Think beyond smartphones: Six digital assistants on offer

It would be stating the obvious to say that the average smartphone user is spoilt for choice. With new models launched almost every week, and boasting of the latest features, there is something for everyone. But it isn’t just the smartphones fighting it out. Digital assistants — some well-known, some less so — are also vying for your attention.

gadgets Updated: Oct 09, 2014 14:56 IST
Sneha Mahale

It would be stating the obvious to say that the average smartphone user is spoilt for choice.



With new models launched almost every week, and boasting of the latest features, there is something for everyone. But it isn’t just the smartphones fighting it out. Digital assistants — some well-known, some less so — are also vying for your attention.



http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8b.jpgCortana

Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now was unveiled to the world at the Build Developer conference earlier this year. Since then, users of the Windows 8.1 OS in the US, UK and China have had to interact with Cortana. The tech giant expects it to be globally available by the end of this year, or by early 2015.

What users love:

Users claim the digital assistant combines the personality of Siri with the intelligence of Google Now. There is more privacy control, as the user decides how much information to share. Also, the level of personalisation is supposedly higher.

Common complaints:

The wait time for Cortana to connect to cloud servers is long at times. And considering that most of the world hasn’t met her yet, the overall impact is yet to be gauged.

Did you know:

The name comes from a character which was part of Microsoft’s Halo game series. Jen Taylor, who voiced her, also voiced the personal assistant in the US-specific version.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8a.jpgS Voice

Samsung’s digital assistant is compatible with several models made by the South Korean giant; and the bundled voice command application comes with all devices launched in or after 2013.

What users love:

Users claim it gives them an option over and above Google Now. Home-grown, it is at times more intuitive when it comes to Samsung products.

Common complaints:

Apparently, it does not match up to Siri and Google Now in terms of efficiency. The S Voice shortcut tends to make the device slower.

Did you know:

Nuance, the developing company, released its first commercial speech application back in 1996. Last year, their CEO finally confirmed that their technology is in fact a part of Apple's Siri.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8f.jpgSiri

First launched as an application on the App Store, Siri — which means "a beautiful woman who leads you to victory" in Norwegian, and "secret" in Swahili — was later integrated into Apple’s software network with iOS 5.


What users love:

One of the earliest virtual assistants on the modern-day phone, Siri amazed critics and users by offering solid voice-enabled search features. It also has a sense of humour. Ask Siri if it knew Steve Jobs, and it says, “Apple doesn’t tell me everything, you know.”

Common complaints:

It doesn’t understand Indian accents that well. And its response time can be slow. Besides, it provides less information than Google Search.

Did you know:

Siri, Inc. had reportedly announced that their software would be available for BlackBerry and for Android devices, but these development efforts were cancelled after the acquisition by Apple.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8d.jpgVoice Mate

Formerly called Quick Voice and Q Voice, it was renamed later. Also, the initial versions were panned by critics. A number of software tweaks were introduced with the LG G2, as was the Voice Mate.

What users love:

It has a fairly accurate understanding of what is said. It also has a good basic ability to understand the context of what is said.

Common complaints:

One thing you can’t apparently do is train it to remember things about you, like which contact is your wife or brother. You also reportedly can’t tell it where you live or work to speed up navigation queries.

Did you know:

The app was originally developed in Korean, and it was only in 2012 that an English version was announced.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8c.jpgGoogle Now

Hailed by Popular Science magazine as the “Innovation of the Year” for 2012, Google Now was first included in Jelly Bean 4.1. Since then, it has become an integral part of Android phones, and has also been made available for iOS as an update to the Google Search and Google Chrome apps.

What users love:

It is great at web searches, and can do a good job at text-to-speech — even when offline. The list of commands is comprehensive as well.

Common complaints:

More suited for some devices than others — Motorola’s benefiting the most, thanks to their pure Android experience. But it doesn’t have much of a personality, and will not work on a locked phone in most cases.

Did you know:

It was originally codenamed “Majel” after Majel Barrett, the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and well known as the voice of computer systems in his franchise.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/10/0910cafepg8e.jpgBlackBerry Assistant

After months of sending out teasers, BlackBerry finally unveiled the BB Assistant with the recently launched Passport.

What users love:

That the BB phone finally has a digital assistant, and that it is contextually aware. It can provide answers and additional context if you ask it a question via a Bluetooth headset and can’t see the screen. If you type, it gives a written response. If you speak, it talks back.

Common complaints:

That BB took so long to launch it — almost after everyone had given up on it and moved on to Android and iOS devices .

Did you know:

The buzz around this digital assistant was so high that its images were leaked online earlier this year.