The other day I received a package, or I should say what in hindsight seems a waste of one: a large box, inside which lay a jumbo-sized cardboard egg, from within which I plucked a tiny rectangular piece of colored paper slightly larger than a business card. On the card, a picture of an iPhone, a greenish tongue of flame, and the words “Introducing…. Dragon Go!”
This is apparently someone’s savvy marketing idea to get my attention (or squander cardboard), perhaps hoping to conjure some latent connection to the dragon eggs featured in HBO’s recently completed (and as of today, multi-Emmy-nominated) first season of Game of Thrones. Intentional or no, I’m making my way through the HBO series now, and here I am, writing about Dragon Go!. Mission accomplished, outsourced PR person!
(LIST: 50 Best iPhone Apps 2011)
Dragon, as many of you may know, is the call sign for a suite of speech-recognition tools, the forerunner of which, DragonDictate, was released in the early 1980s for DOS. It’s since been recognized as perhaps the most accurate of the consumer-grade speech recognition utilities (at one point, employed as a computer systems engineer, I provided tech support to a quadriplegic who used Dragon Naturally Speaking—as it was called by 1997—to run his entire home office).
Enter Dragon Go!, basically a freebie iPhone version of publisher Nuance’s voice recognition technology, designed to let you conjure answers to natural language questions. Dragon says it’s partnered with 180 content providers, including AccuWeather, Bing, ESPN, Facebook, Fandango, iTunes, Last.fm, LiveNation, Milo.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Rotten Tomatoes, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, YouTube and Yahoo. The idea’s that you ask the phone a question and it’ll not only recognize what you say, but understand the semantics of the question in terms of the most appropriate content portal.
“Say what you want and Dragon Go! will deliver your results within seconds,” goes the app-info sales pitch. But does it really? After fiddling with it a bit this morning, I can say it does, and with sometimes astonishing intelligence, though it still occasionally fumbles the ball (hit the jump below for my hands-on impressions).
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When I tapped the record button, said “Harry Potter tickets,” then tapped “done,” the app—which displayed what I said accurately—threw up a list of Harry Potter movies. Okay, no problem. So what about “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part two tickets”? The app got everything right save one word: hallows (it means “revered stuff”). Dragon Go! read this as “hollows,” then threw me over to Google, which—since the movie debuts stateside at midnight tonight—automatically corrected the misread and displayed the proper results for my query. One click later (on “use my location”) and I had both theaters and show times at my command. Even Flixster isn’t that fast.
Saying “coffee Ann Arbor Michigan” conjured Yelp, automatically selecting the sort by “best match” tab. And here’s where thing’s got really cool: Saying “best cup of coffee in Ann Arbor Michigan” auto-selected Yelp again, but this time Dragon Go! somehow parsed “best” intelligently enough to auto-select Yelp’s sort by “ratings” tab instead. And saying “closest Taco Bell” auto-selected Yelp’s sort by “distance” tab, using my current GPS-based location to estimate mileage. Will I now use Dragon Go! to find food on a road trip, say the nearest A&W? Heck yes.
“Latest news on budget deficit” translated correctly and brought me to CNN, but alas, CNN’s search engine failed: The top results for “news on budget deficit” were unhelpful links like “CNN Student News” and “Prime News,” both dated October 2009. I had to scroll down to the fourth link before I found a one-day-old story. Accurate as Dragon Go! may be, it’s only as powerful as each content portal’s endpoint technology.
You can sometimes stump it, of course. Saying “Palin versus Bachmann” took me inexplicably back to Yelp, with a “no results found” screen. And sometimes it punts on portal results: I said “play signed, sealed, delivered” and it brought up a bunch of Google search results (links to YouTube videos) instead of sending me to something more appropriate, like last.fm or Pandora (though to be fair, the tabs for these were just a click away).
This isn’t a formal review—I’ve only spent all of 15 minutes monkeying with the app—but it is a strong first-impressions endorsement. With Dragon Go!, Nuance seems to be giving us our first serious look at the on-the-go, anywhere-you-are semantic web, promised almost a decade ago.