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Do you use Siri a lot, a little -- or not at all?
Well, no matter how frequently you interact with her, you've probably had your fair share of problems with Siri -- as well as times when her performance is just peachy.
When Apple first released Siri, with the introduction of the iPhone 4S in October 2011, iPhone diehards were enthusiastic. The novelty has since worn off, however: More than 18 months later, for some folks the bloom is now off that rose.
Users have kvetched about Siri freezing or about having to repeat commands several times before she gets it. Others are tired of Siri not working when there's a problem communicating with Apple's servers. She can refuse to respond to requests even when your iPhone has reestablished a solid network connection. There are also dictation hassles: Make the slightest pause in your diatribe, for instance, and -- drat! -- Siri might think you're done.
Rivals, most notably Google, are attempting to take advantage of Siri's shortcomings. For example, Google has added conversational capabilities to its Search service.
For all the moans and groans, though, hordes of Siri users are satisfied. We're not saying that you should ditch Siri entirely for other options. But you might want to check out these viable complementary alternatives to expand your team of iOS assistants.
First up: Vokul, for $2.99. When it comes to dictation, Vokul has your back. In true hands-free mode, it lets you dictate emails, texts and posts (for Facebook and Twitter). You don't have to press a button to get its attention; instead, you say "Hey Vokul," followed by your voice action ("Send a text message to Scott"). The soft-spoken feminine voice will prompt you every step of the way and read back what it heard in case you want to edit your spiel before you utter "Send." (Disclaimer: The company notes that due to iOS 6 restrictions, Vokul does not let you automatically send text messages and emails by saying "send" -- you must physically press a button to send messages.)
You can ask Vokul to play a particular tune and to skip forward and backwards among your tracks. You can also navigate podcasts, audiobooks and call contacts using your voice. And if you're so inclined, you can even hear your Facebook and Twitter feeds read aloud. Vokul works on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and requires iOS 4.2 or later.
Dig into our slideshow for more Siri alternatives.
The free Dragon Go by Nuance lets you search for information on the Web using only your voice. Simply speak your query -- "productivity software," for instance. You can type to edit your query as well.
What comes back? Lots of different kinds of content that serve up the best answers to match your quest -- a "nearly unconstrained ecosystem of content" is how company executives describe it. Dragon Go will show results from Amazon, eBay and others for purchase links, along with Wikipedia and others, as it tries to understand your intent. Depending on your query, it will also pull up results from Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon to help with restaurant reservations, and from ESPN, CNN sports, SI.com for sports info.
Dragon Go's specialty is search; it does not let you compose text messages or emails. But you can use your voice to call up tunes -- "Play Skyfall," for example. Nuance says that Dragon Go will get to know your speaking style as time goes on, improving word recognition all the while. The app works with iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, and on third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch devices with an external mic.
Speaktoit Assistant is conversant in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Russian -- and the app is free as of this writing. You choose your assistant's on-screen appearance; there are two male and two female characters available. Using your voice, Speaktoit Assistant lets you compose emails and text messages, insert calendar items, take notes, find news and traffic information, tweet, update Facebook, hunt down nearby restaurants, get reminders about scheduled events and more. You can also customize tasks; for example, you can program your iPhone to open your contacts list when you say "Peeps." Speaktoit Assistant requires iOS 4.3 or later, and the company says the app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Unlike Siri, Evi sports a British accent. Like Siri, the app uses natural language processing. But Evi also uses semantic search technology: It goes beyond matching the words you speak or type when you run a search and tries to understand the inference behind the question. Then Evi analyzes the information pulled from various sources to come up with the most accurate answer to your query, responding in a conversational style. You can also initiate a call, send email or an SMS using voice commands. Evi includes a comprehensive tutorial, which provides samples of how you can rephrase queries; for instance, if Evi can't understand you the first time. At one time, Evi cost 99 cents, but it's free for now -- and the app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad running iOS 5.0 or later.
In December 2011, Vlingo was acquired by Dragon Go's maker, Nuance. Responding to your voice command, Vlingo can compose an email, a text message, a calendar reminder, a Facebook status or a tweet. You can also make calls and get directions. This free app will read your words back to you before your email message, for example, is whisked off. If you're behind the wheel, Vlingo has a hands-free car mode that lets you accomplish tasks with your voice alone -- no need to fumble around to tap your phone's screen. Vlingo also can handle rudimentary searches by voice. For instance, you can say "convention centers near Savannah." However, Vlingo's search results lack the more-unbridled scope of the responses delivered by its cousin, Dragon Go. Vlingo is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad running iOS 4.0 or later.
Meet Eve, the upbeat persona behind Voice Answer, the $3.99 virtual assistant created by Sparkling Apps. The company touts the app's reliance on sophisticated artificial intelligence, a rich knowledge base and local information to help you out with your daily deeds. To get stuff done, you can say things like "Send text to Julianne that I am stuck in traffic," "Translate 'all systems go' into French," "Where is the nearest gas station?" and so on. You can ask Eve for help with other topics as well, such as, "When did the Detroit Red Wings last win the Stanley Cup?" Eve will speak out all results -- and deliver images to boot. You have the option to use an animated 3-D robot as the presenter of the results. In your copious spare time, you can enjoy the chatbot feature, which allows you to have a general confab with Eve and ask her all kinds of things, like, oh, "Who are you?" (According to Sparkling Apps, Eve has a strong sense of self-worth, and if you're looking for a diversion, ask her to tell a couple of jokes.) Voice Answer requires iOS 4.3 or later and is optimized for iPhone 5.
Google Now, available for iOS as part of Google Search, along with all the digital assistants highlighted in this story, is designed to assemble and offer up the most relevant information. Google Now, however, tries to top all the others. The free app strives to determine exactly what information you need and present it to you without you having to ask. Using your location, it pops up traffic and weather conditions, along with updates on your favorite sports teams and news items, throughout your day. Tap on the screen and you can use Google's Voice Search to hunt for information conversationally. You can also ask it to track down local restaurants, movie times and other goings-on. Google Search works on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad with iOS 5.0 or later.