Siri may be both the best and the worst feature Apple has rolled out for iOS yet. On the one hand, the beta product is fun and helpful. On the other hand, the software is exclusive to the iPhone 4S; iPads, iPod touches and older iPhones need not apply. The situation provides an opportunity for developers on non-Siri devices, and SpeakToIt Assistant, found in the iTunes App Store, is one of these.
What can SpeakToIt Assistant do?
I spent some time with SpeakToIt on both an old iPhone 3GS and my iPad 2 earlier today, and while it’s somewhat limited compared to Siri — more on that later — the $1.99 app can assist with certain tasks. Using the software, I was able to compose and send text messages and emails from my iPhone and my iPad; note that on the iPad, SpeakToIt appears as an iPhone app with support for pixel doubling.
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SpeakToIt Assistant can also search the web for various information. I asked it to search Amazon for a product and the results were spot on. A small window with results opens in the top half of the display, but with one tap, these can be expanded to a full screen. Other searchable items include images, maps, news, stock information, the IMDB site and weather nearby or around the world.
Search results take place quickly; in some cases faster than Siri. That could be due to more people using Apple’s software and servers versus those using SpeakToIt. You can customize the look of the assistant and turn conversation mode on or off.
Multiple skills, but not hooks into iOS
Also in the list of skills are features to organize events or your agenda, tasks, translate words or phrases from English and a calculator for basic math or conversion of currency or measures. I rely on Siri’s “what’s my day look like?” function on a daily basis, and a “what’s on my calendar?” query worked just fine. I first had to give the OK for SpeakToIt to see my Google Calendar; the app isn’t hooked into the native iOS Calendar software.
And if you allow SpeakToIt to access your Twitter or Facebook accounts, you can send tweets or update your status by voice. You can also check in to FourSquare, although I didn’t try that function yet. Tweets and status updates worked out really well in my tests; better than the email dictations I tried.
Limitations and voice input
Here’s where the limitations come in. Although SpeakToIs Assistant is powered by Nuance, the same as Siri, I found message dictation to be marginal at best for some reason. With Siri, I can speak multiple sentences, along with punctuation, and the text is perfect nearly every time. With SpeakToIt, even when trying to add punctuation, my dictations became giant run-on sentences without punctuation.
And although the app has a coversation mode, so that you don’t have to hit the microphone button for every command, it’s not quite as conversational as Siri. If you want to talk about weather in several places, that’s fine. But the process of creating a message ends with the message dictation. You have to manually send it by tapping the Send button.
Siri also has better native app integration as well. I tried to create a reminder with SpeakToIt assistant, but it could only do so with Evernote. No such luck setting an alarm with the native Clock app, either. This is where Siri shines: It’s integrated at a lower level with iOS than any third-party option likely ever will be.
Worth a try if you temper expectations
Still, SpeakToIt assistant shows promise as a $1.99 app, as I’d expect it to keep maturing and improving. Folks that don’t want to pay for the app just yet can take a free chance on Valentine’s Day: the software will be free to the first 100,000 people who download it, and $0.99 after that for the remainder of the day.