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

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  • Guest

    “But as evidenced by this episode, sales are ultimately driven by compelling features, effectively communicated.” Truer words were never spoken.

    “And that is why you fail.” – Yoda

  • Guest

    Translated: “We had our soulless, less capable imitation of you previous attempt first. We ONLY failed to hype it enough.”

    Laughable. If it weren’t so sad.

  • Guest

    I don’t know which is more shocking, the fact that the Chief of Research and Strategy at MS can’t see that the Siri front-end is a leap ahead of TellMe’s equivalent and much more compelling, or the almost total disdain he shows for the fact that Apple has also completely out-marketed MS and, for a fraction of the cost and time that MS has invested, once again taken mind-share leadership in an area that MS had a decade’s head start in. Just like they did in mobile and tablets.

    With this kind of out-of-touch leadership, MS deserves the declining relevance, growth, and valuation which the market is awarding it.

    • cosuna

      It’s just in line with the previous disdain that Ballmer gave the iPhone, just to see it surpass Windows Mobile and then make it irrelevant.

  • Guest

    Forbes also did one titled “What’s Craig Mundie Been Smoking?”. It’s scathing. And frankly deservedly so.

  • Mike

    Those comments of MS being ahead of Apples Siri isdefinitely laughable. When is MS going to create something truely innovative ok, the XBOX was pretty good shot). MS didn’t even invent the Kinect – they just licensed it.

    • Guest

      “MS didn’t even invent the Kinect – they just licensed it.”

      Not even close to accurate.

    • Dongreenthumb

      Siri was licensed by Apple with Nuance playing a major role in the whole process… Read more you blind iBat

  • Andrew Collins

    I just read a similar piece off Techmeme of a techAU article (Australian tech blog I assume). They included a side by side comparison video of Siri vs. WP7 voice controls. The results are humorous as well as slightly shocking considering it is 2011. 

    Here’s the side by side comparison:
    Original article:

    As an Android user I recommend the Vlingo app. I did a comparison with my friend’s iPhone4S and Vlingo actually beat Siri on a few of the tasks in speed and accuracy.

    • techau

      Certainly is an Australian blog Andrew. I actually really like WP7 and hope the video and now coverage (front page of techmeme today), spurs them to invest and improve in this area.

    • Bob

      I saw that yesterday. It does show how Siri is ahead on conversational input. Of course it’s a bit like using Unix commands on Windows and wondering why they don’t work. TellMe is currently more command driven. Had they shown that, it’s probable that for many tasks TellMe would outperform Siri. The problem for MS is that conversational input is obviously more NUI friendly. And as their own TellMe future videos show, that’s where they want to get to. But Siri has beaten them there.

      I’d be interested in hearing an update from someone like the TellMe guy Todd interviewed a while back, assuming they’re prepared to be a lot more honest than Mundie was and actually talk about where they think they’re no ahead and behind.

    • Guest

      Yup, Craig, TellMe and Siri are clearly equivelant.

      Whatever you’re smoking Craig, I’d like some of that!

  • Anonymous

    Microsoft is hilarious.  The sad part is that people actually believe their nonsense.

  • Mikeslade

    The difference is that Microsoft markets as a science, not as an art. They think some web of partners will come up with a coherent marketing message. As if.

  • Anonymous

    Well cry me a river!  There were a lot of better products that have been quashed by M$ over the years.  And not in the actual competitive marketplace, but by dirty underhanded back room dealings by Bill.  M$ is trying to control Android with the same underhanded tactics.  (threatening the OEMs with financial risk)  But now that the OEMs and consumers have choices, M$ will always be the last choice.  MS broke a lot of rules, but there are bigger rules in the Universe, “What goes around comes around”.  “Equal and opposite reaction” etc. In some cultures it is called Karma. 

    • Guest

      Your tinfoil hat needs adjusting.

      • Anonymous

        Must be some short of recently new geeeeeek, that does not know that much. The MS shenanigans are all on record, including all the antitrust issues, in fact Bill is still on the stand. His new found charities will no buy him any penance. But what would an uninformed uneducated moron know about that?

        • Guest

          Dude, the 1990’s called and want you to leave for good this time.

          • Anonymous

            Learn the language, it’s called English, and get an education so you don’t come across as a moron.

          • Guest

            English advice from someone who spells Microsoft as “M$”? You can’t really be serious. Say, how many of these aliases have you run through over the last decade?

  • Guest

    Where’s @fxshaw when you need him? This is turning into another massive PR disaster for MS.

  • patman

    Being first doesn’t necessarily ensure success.  Doing it right and getting people to notice tops being first IMO

    • Guest

      It certainly did this time. Which is why Apple has won. MS was first. Apple waited to buy Siri and get it right. And then got everyone to notice.

  • Yetter

    Just recently read an article on TIME titled “Windows phone: Microsoft’s overachieving underdog” that basically said that TellMe is actual useful while Siri is more of a gimmick.  I’m not sure I agree with that entirely.  I wish Tellme could access my calender and allow me to set appointments, from my understanding Siri doesn’t allow you to respond to text messages complete hands free which WP does very nicely.  I think the two systems are very similar I have only breifly demoed Siri and I was impressed with but I use Tellme daily and have had very few problems with it overall.  

  • Tigger

    What, Siri doesn’t allow you to respond to text messages completely hands free?  Damn glad I have a WP!!!

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