Why Microsoft and Google Fear Apple’s Siri

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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As I watched Andy Rubin’s interview at the Wall Street Journal‘s “D Asia” conference last fall, I became highly intrigued by the comments he made about Apple’s Siri. Rubin told the WSJ’s Walt Mossberg, “I don’t believe your phone should be an assistant…Your phone is a tool for communicating,” he said. “You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.”

Andy Rubin is known as the father of Android and was speaking on behalf of Google. Here’s a link to the interview if you haven’t seen it.

(MORE: Siri Tricks and Tips: Do More with the iPhone 4S Virtual Assistant)

At the same conference, when questioned about Siri, Microsoft’s Andy Lees said it “isn’t super useful.” At the same time, he noted that Windows Phone 7 has a degree of voice interactivity in the way it connects to Bing, and thus harnesses “the full power of the internet, rather than a certain subset.”

But they both seem to miss the fact that Apple has just introduced voice as a major user interface, and that its use of voice coupled with AI on a consumer product like the iPhone is going to change the way consumers think about man-machine interfaces in the future.

I have two theories about the responses from Google and Microsoft. One is based on jealously, and one is future-driven based on what Siri really will become very soon and its ultimate threat to Apple’s competitors’ businesses.

Both Microsoft and Google have had major voice UI technology in the works at their labs for a long time. In the case of Microsoft, I was first shown some of their voice research back in 1992. In Google’s case, people in the know have told me that they have had a similar project in development for over seven years. And in both cases they are behind Apple – especially in Siri’s artificial intelligence capabilities and speech comprehension technology.

Interestingly, even for Apple, it’s taken a long time to get voice technology working correctly. In fact, in the early 1990s, I spent some time with Kaifu Li when he was at Apple working on a speech and voice recognition technology called Plain Talk. At the time, he was considered one of the major minds on this subject and when, after a short stint at Silicon Graphics, he joined Microsoft, one of his key projects was working on speech technology for them. Of course, if you know about Kaifu Li, you know that he left Microsoft to go to Google and was the subject of a major lawsuit between Microsoft and Google because Microsoft thought he would disclose to Google too much of what Microsoft was doing when he joined Google.

(MORE: The Future of Television: Kinect vs. Siri?)

Microsoft and Google, especially since they had the mind of Kaifu Li working on various projects while he was at these companies, can’t be too pleased that Apple was the one to actually harness voice and speech comprehension ahead of them. You can bet that if either announced a breakthrough voice technology, they would be touting it as loudly as possible. Instead they are downplaying it.

So that’s the jealousy theory, but the real reason these two companies hate Siri is because of what it will become in the very near future.

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