Microsoft and Apple tackled touch interfaces in diametrically opposing ways. As Apple set out to bring multitouch on mobile devices to the masses with the 2007 release of the original iPhone, Microsoft created a blown up version with its Surface multitouch tabletop (which can now be yours for a cool $8,400, shipping in early 2012).
Microsoft also progressed natural user interfaces with the Kinect motion controller for the Xbox 360 console while Apple charted its way into the future with an artificial intelligence-driven personal assistant dubbed Siri.
So, when Microsoft’s chief strategy and research officer Craig Mundie sat down with Forbes’ Eric Savitz to talk the company’s planned expansion of the new user interface, he did what Microsoft executives typically do when challenged with a cool tech developed outside the Windows maker’s labs: He stuck his foot in his mouth over Apple’s groundbreaking digital secretary exclusive to the iPhone 4S.
In the above clip, he said (mark 1:45):
People are infatuated with Apple announcing it. It’s good marketing, but at least as the technological capability you could argue that Microsoft has had a similar capability in Windows Phones for more than a year, since Windows Phone 7 was introduced.
Windows Phones, seriously? Mundie couldn’t acknowledge Siri as an ace up Apple’s sleeve and barely accepted that Microsoft could learn a lesson or two about “productizing” technology. He then went on to describe how their version of Siri works on Windows Phones:
you can pick ‘em up and say ‘text Eric’ and say what you wanna say and it transcribes it. You can query anything through Bing by just saying the words. I mean, all that’s already there. Fully functional, been there for a year.
It’s not the first time Microsoft executives stuck their head in the sand. Steve Ballmer famously laughed off the original iPhone as being overpriced and not appealing to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard. The iPhone went on to become the world’s most popular handset. Mundie’s comment echoes a sentiment shared by Google’s vice president of mobile Andy Rubin who offered the following argument as to why people didn’t need Siri:
Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.
Siri-like functionality is non-existent in Windows Phone software. It’s like saying Android has Siri just because it can recognize a limited set of voice commands. Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky in an exclusive interview with 9to5Mac likened Siri arrival to “a world-changing event” and he’s right about that. Stemming from over 40 years of research into artificial intelligence funded by DARPA via SRI International’s Artificial Intelligence Center through the CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) program, Siri understands complex human speech, it is conversational, learns over time and sports the agent capability allowing it to act in a sandboxed environment on your behalf, pull data, seek facts and more. There’s no doubt rivals are scrambling to develop their own Siri-like software and Apple bringing out Siri on the iconic smartphone will mainstream the technology. Repercussions on the computing industry will be felt for years to come, causing a paradigm shift in how we use our devices. It is also reasonable to assume that Siri will be rolled out gradually to other Apple devices, including Macs, more services and languages will be added and support in third-party applications via a software development kit is also to be expected in the future. Finally, Apple is thought to be developing a networked television set with a Siri-fied interface as one of its flagship features (here and here).