Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, is making news today for recent comments downplaying Apple’s Siri intelligent assistant — telling Forbes’ Eric Savitz that Microsoft has had similar functionality for more than a year.
Starting around the 2:00 mark in the interview above, Mundie points to examples including the ability to interact completely by voice with the text messaging application in Windows Phone 7.5, and search via Bing on the phone using voice recognition.
“All that’s already there, fully functional. Been there for a year,” Mundie says.
Mundie is right, and Microsoft has won praise for the latest advances in its mobile voice recognition. But does Windows Phone really live up to what Apple is doing with Siri? Based on my own experience, at least, Apple seems to be closer to the goal of offering an intelligent assistant, not just a voice interface, with a wider array of applications and the use of location awareness to make Siri smarter.
Here’s how David Pogue put it in his favorable review of Windows Phone 7.5.
When you hold down the Windows-logo button, you get a talking virtual assistant, like Siri on the iPhone 4S.
Well, O.K., it is not just like Siri. The recognition is nowhere near as good or as broad. You can’t actually dictate what you would otherwise type, as on Android and the iPhone; the only things you can dictate are text messages, search terms and e-mail messages. And Microsoft makes no effort to give the phone a personality, as Apple did.
But it’s great at understanding its Big Four commands: Call, Text, Find (on the Web) and Open (an app). “Call mom,” “Text Casey Robin,” “Find coffee shops” and “Open Angry Birds,” for example, are all reliable and important. (On the iPhone, you can’t open apps by voice at all.)
Even if Apple has leapfrogged Microsoft for now, clearly both companies are doing a lot of the same things in voice recognition, which is Mundie’s broader point.
So why is Apple getting credit when Microsoft didn’t? Here’s the exchange between Mundie and Savitz on that point.
Savitz: Is there something about the way Apple is delivering that message, or is there something about the way they’ve productized Siri, maybe there’s some learnings for Microsoft?
Mundie: I certainly accept your comment that we could probably learn something on the marketing side. In a sense, many people were disappointed with the newest (Apple) phone because it wasn’t a completely new thing, so the only thing they really had to hammer on was that feature. Maybe we need to pick a feature and hammer on it harder. At the point Windows 7 Phones were being introduced many people wanted to write the company off as not a survivor in the phone segment. In a sense we’ve had to overcome our errors in the transition from the old phone model to the new phone model. Hopefully now that people are giving us some credit for the quality of the execution on the phone itself — Nokia has come on line now, that’s a huge thing. HTC and others.
Savitz: Now they just want to see some units, sell some phones.
Mundie: Well, but that’s why I also say to people, think global.
Maybe that gigantic Windows Phone in New York a couple weeks ago will help.
On a serious note, one key for Microsoft is getting the front-line salespeople at the mobile carriers to actually be interested in selling Windows Phones. But as evidenced by this episode, sales are ultimately driven by compelling features, effectively communicated.
Previously on GeekWire: Microsoft adding more voice to Xbox, Windows Phone and pretty much everything else