After a first attempt to create its own version of Apple’s trending voice assistant, “Siri,” Google is reportedly working on a new, more sophisticated model to release in early 2012. The new voice assistant, dubbed “Majel,” will replace Android’s first attempt at a voice assistant app called “Iris” (or Siri in reverse).
Reportedly developed in under eight hours, Iris was a rival project aimed at Apple after Siri’s popularity rose with the release of the iPhone 4S. Try as it might, Iris has been little competition to Siri whose conversational approach has allowed it to stand out among other similar apps, such as Iris, which take the voice command approach.
Google has been actively working on their new natural language persona, Majel, hoping to provide tougher competition to its Apple counterpart. Majel is named after the “Star Trek” actress Majel Barrett-Roddenberry who, among other roles, played the voice of the Federation Computer in the latter part of the series. One of Majel’s improvements over current Android options is the evolution of Voice Actions (the use of specific commands such as “call…”) to a more subtle, natural language voice assistant. Google has also recently purchased Phonetic Arts, allowing the app to acquire a more human-sounding voice than its predecessor, Iris.
While many critics belittle Google for its initial response to Siri by creating the lackluster Iris, Google is positive about Majel and the success it could bring the company. Matias Duarte, Director of Android OS User Experience, explains how their approach to creating a voice assistant application stands out from the crowd:
“The metaphor I like to take is – if it’s Star Wars, you have these robot personalities like C-3PO who runs around and he tries to do stuff for you, messes up and makes jokes, he’s kind of a comic relief guy. Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just “Computer.” And you can talk to it and you can touch it, you can interact with it at the same time as you talk with it. It’s just another way to interface with the computer.”
The initial version of Majel will be limited to only Google search queries and is expected to be released no later than February of next year.