Apple's Siri system is one of the flagship features of the iPhone 4S, but a team of Android developers reckoned they could match the voice command system - or at least rival it - with just eight hours work. Dexetra came up with Iris for Android, a tongue-in-cheek reversal of the Siri name, and pulling together Android's existing voice input and text-to-speech capabilities with some online search and a dash of arch humor.
Unfortunately, Iris' speedy construction means there are still some rough patches, and in a brief trial this morning I had more problems than I did with Siri. It started well: asking "What is Android?" brought back a potted definition from online, read out loud to me; asking what time it was in Hong Kong pulled up the time, though Android's text-to-speech mangled the numbers (the on-screen version was fine).
After that things went downhill. Iris decided that "12 + 3" came to 144, and when I asked "What is 10 UK pounds in US dollars?" - something that Siri also struggled with - Iris misunderstood the question and then told me "It's a bird." As far as I'm aware, there's no Cockney slang for "bird" and cash. Finally, asking Iris to "Open SlashGear.com" failed to load the site in the browser, with the app instead saying the cryptic "Open-source." Siri may have got questions wrong too, but it at least gave those wrong answers speedily. Iris took a while to do its online searching.
It's worth remembering that this was just a quick test with a system that took 8hrs to put together and is released as an early alpha in the Android Market. The takeaway message is that Apple can't afford to stand still: if a small team of developers can create something like Iris in less than a day, the combined mass of Google's developers is capable of much, much more. Ice Cream Sandwich is just the start of it.