Siri vs Voice Assistant: An accessibility view

AbilityNet Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson spoke at Future of Web Apps in London on 16 October 2012 - here's a quick preview of one part of his talk.

UPDATE: You can read Robin's speaker notes from FOWA London 2012 on this site

Future of web apps logoThe battle intensifies …and disabled users win?

For some time now the two leading smartphone operating systems –Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android – have been vying for supremacy in the battle to have the best and quickest virtual assistant to help users with fast and intuitive ways to find out information and perform tasks.

Whilst these in-built artificial intelligence agents are hard at work making life easier for all smartphone users there is one group that is benefitting from the escalating efforts of the tech giants more than any other; the disabled community. But before we go any further with that thought let’s look at how the competitors are shaping up.

Siri vs Voice Assistant head-to-head: the video evidence

Both Apple’s ‘Siri’ and Google’s ‘Voice Assistant’ are able to tell you Winston Churchill’s birthday, what an ounce of Gold or any foreign currency is worth at today’s prices, whether it will rain this afternoon, turn-by-turn directions to your nearest pizza place, and pictures of pigmy marmosets (officially the cutest monkeys in the world). But a painstaking perusal of the many Youtube videos of phone face-offs between iOS6 and Jellybean provides some interesting results.

siri and google voice assistant logos

First is a good head-to-head test of the sort of questions we all use our AIs for every day: Siri vs. Google Voice: 21 Questions For iPhone 5 And Jelly Bean 4.1

From watching this I think you’d agree that there’s nothing between them for accuracy - but Google’s Voice Assistant wins hands-down on speed.

So far so good, but what about if we ask them something a little more challenging?

In another video Jelly Bean Samsung Galaxy S3 (Google Voice) vs (Siri) iPhone 5, we see that Google has some way to go on the tougher questions. I know that there is a vast variety of questions we could ask these assistants, and that the results might come out differently in each case, but I was unable to find a review that came out in Voice Assistant’s favour when their intelligence is pushed to the limit.

So what does voice recognition have to do with accessibility?

This is all very exciting (or at least I think it is). It’s shaving valuable seconds off the tasks we try to cram in to our already overcrowded lives, but what’s it got to do with disability and why is the disabled community the biggest winner in this escalating better artificial assistance arms race?

It’s to do with those valuable seconds that these apps save us.

Robin at Future of Web Design London, 2011For disabled users such as myself (I’m blind) what Siri can do in five seconds might take me five or sometimes ten minutes. In many cases I might not be able to manage to find what I’m looking for at all because the websites I’m using are inaccessible to my screen-reading software. A similarly slow and painful experience is had by many who can’t use a mouse. Try using your site from the keyboard and you’ll soon see what we mean – it’ll either not work at all or it’ll take you whole minutes to get where you want to go.

Everyone’s a winner?

So for the blind, the motor-impaired, those with learning disabilities or dyslexia, anyone who loves the KISS principal (and which of us doesn’t?), and for positively millions of smartphone users out there, this AI arms race has benefits far beyond the modest convenience bonus for by the average use. Even the contenders themselves have no idea how far this thing will go…

Please use the comments to tell me what you think the future will look like.

Follow Robin on Twitter @usa2day

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