April 18, 2013
Look Out Siri, Here Comes Your Spanish Rival
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
It´s still in beta, but Apple´s Siri is already a favorite feature for many iPhone users. There are others, of course, who don´t feel the technology is up to snuff.
The speech recognition service could only perform a handful of native tasks in the beginning, but Apple is determined to continue expanding its functionality. Google has followed suit with Google Now, a service now baked into most Android devices. In true Samsung fashion, the Korean smartphone manufacturer has developed its own intelligent assistant called S-Voice.
Now, another speech-recognition service from Spain and Latin America is looking to transition to the States. Sherpa has been burning through the Google Play charts in spanish-speaking countries since October and has since become fluent in English, arriving on American shores yesterday.
Sherpa CEO Xabi Uribe-Etxebarria has been demoing his product in the weeks leading up to the American release and, so far, Sherpa seems to be an incredibly full-featured speech recognition app capable of standing up to its more experienced anglophonic competition.
Sherpa is capable of doing all the things you´ve come to expect from an intelligent assistant living in your smartphone. What makes Sherpa standout is where the service goes one step beyond the competition.
For instance, in the Ubergizmo demo, the reviewer pits Sherpa against Apple´s Siri. Simply speaking the word “Obama” to Sherpa yielded a plethora of results. Lagging animation and navigation aside, the app quickly brought up a factoid sheet about America´s 44th president, including his age, the names of his wife and children and his signature. When the same command was spoken into an iPhone, Siri gave the disappointing response, “I don´t know what that means. If you like, I can search the web for ℠Obama.´”
Those who got an early peek at Sherpa also got to witness the tight integration between its calendaring and mapping capabilities. For instance, if Siri is given the command “Take me to my next appointment,” or “give me directions to my next meeting,” she´ll only display the time when your next meeting is scheduled. When asked the same question, Sherpa opens Google Maps and starts giving directions to your next meeting.
Just like Siri, Sherpa can also play music for you at the sound of your voice. Unlike Siri, however, Sherpa can play music that´s not stored on the device — a very cool trick indeed.
Mr. Uribe-Etxebarria demoed perhaps the coolest Sherpa trick to Drew Olanoff at Tech Crunch. The new Android intelligent assistant is able to book flights from a complex set of restrictions. For instance, if you were to ask Sherpa, “My wife and I need a flight from San Francisco to Boston this weekend and a flight back on Wednesday,” the service will return a list of available flights for two adults. Sherpa is even capable of sending money via PayPal as well as reporting the weather and sports scores.
Uribe-Etxebarria and team have clearly spent a lot of time on this app to ensure that it understands natural language instead of a select list of commands. Siri was debuted as a natural language listener and, to an extent, does fairly well with this. Yet as was seen in the Ubergizmo demo, the simple command “Obama” stumped her.
According to GigaOm, Sherpa´s CEO said his team developed a special language for Sherpa filled with “250,000 semantic concepts accompanied by 5,000 rules used to order those concepts.”
For the time being, Sherpa uses Google´s speech API, then runs the command through these concepts and rules to return the appropriate results.
Sherpa is available now in the Google Play store for free.