Ten years ago it might have seemed impossible that someday you might have a digital assistant that lived in your phone. And that assistant would search for the answers you need when you need them and speak to you just like a flesh and blood office assistant.
When Apple introduced Siri on the iPhone all that changed. Today, Apple is not the only company that provides you a digital assistant for managing your day and your business.
Below is a list of some of the Siri alternatives. They may not do everything Siri does. (Some may even do more and in a different way.) But they’re all worth a look to see which, if any, might best suit your needs.
Of course, it goes without saying that Google has tested the digital assistant waters by launching Google Now for the iPhone and Android. Being a Google product, it works remarkably well.
Using your built-in GPS function on your phone, it determines where you are at, at all times. Then it provides services which may prove useful to you.
- If you are on a trip, it will inform you of places of importance on your route.
- If you are commuting to and from work, it will tell you how long it will take to get home (based on current traffic reports), as well as provide a map.
- It will give you the current temperature, as well as the temperatures for the next few days.
- It will provide you with relevant news based on information you provide.
- You can tell Google to store your reminders, and, if it involves a geographical location, it will remind you when you arrive there.
This information is provided on “cards” which appear on the screen. When you don’t need it anymore, you can use your finger to swipe away the card.
If you use Google Chrome, Google Now is integrated into the browser. So if Google Now is activated on your phone, the reminders will be synchronized to your browser, too.
Getting started is easy. Google Now is already built in to the Google search app for either iOS or Android.
Windows Phone 8.1 Cortana
There has been considerable excitement over the release of Microsoft’s first digital assistant, Cortana. Named for a character in the video game Halo, Cortana has some features that are far beyond those offered by Siri. Available with Windows Phone 8.1, it does much more than simply navigate the Web to find the answers to your queries.
By telling Cortana who you are, including information about your business and some personal details, it can learn about you and how to provide you with more of the information you need. People will see plenty of similarities between Cortana and Google Now, which shows you your travel data, calendar updates and more. You can quickly glance at your day by checking traffic, weather, news headlines and so on. You can also plan your upcoming business trips and check for important locations along your route.
This is not a free option – Vokul costs $2.99. I downloaded it for this post to see it in action, after hearing good things. After playing around with it for a while, I found it a bit difficult to get used to. But eventually it becomes easier to use and does have some worthwhile features.
One interesting feature is that it will read your Twitter or Facebook feeds to you. Beware, however. In the case of Facebook, Vokul will also read all the comments to a status update, too. And that may be a bit too much information, depending upon how many comments you usually receive. Another interesting feature is that it can actually enhance your workout. Vokul can adjust the tempo of the music you are listening to so that it matches the speed of your exercise regimen, say, when jogging, for example.
If you own an iPhone, Dragon Go comes pre-installed. Widely considered to be one of the best voice recognition apps ever made, it is not so much a Siri alternative. It provides a totally different service, but one just as important.
Dragon Go is purely a dictation app, nothing more. It won’t start your music for you or check the traffic for your commute home. But using it, you can dictate text, then email it, SMS it, or use it to update your Facebook or Twitter accounts. For some people, that is more than enough.
For example, you can use Dragon Go to dictate reminders to yourself when you are out, then have them emailed to you. Dragon Go has a very high success rate when correctly understanding a user’s voice, so repeating yourself is rare if you speak clearly.
This digital assistant comes with a visual manifestation, not simply a voice. Appearing as a female named Sam, she performs a variety of functions. These include sending SMS’s, looking things up online, playing your music, composing emails, and more. You can customize the app by renaming your assistant. An upgrade to a premium version will give you even more services and allow you to change your assistant’s appearance.
Evi is a free app which can answer many of your questions. All you need to do is speak your question into the phone, and it will look the answer up and respond. Evi obviously relies very strongly on search engines, and your GPS. So you can ask it location-based questions, like the name and address of local restaurants or other important locations on a business trip. You can also ask it to research questions on the Web.
The simply named Voice Answer is represented visually as a robot that can send SMS’s, play music, send email and look up answers to questions. But it can also remind you of appointments to keep you on schedule. If you find the robotic voice annoying after a while, you can switch it off in the settings. The free version of the app runs advertising, but you can eliminate this by simply paying a few dollars for a premium version.
This digital assistant is another offering from Nuance, the makers of Dragon Go, which we reviewed earlier on this list. There is no free version and the download is $2.99. But this visual assistant does send SMS’s, emails, and look up answers to questions online. It even posts to social media. User reviews on the iTunes store suggest it may not be your best choice, however, and the interface seems somewhat spartan.
For those brave enough to “jailbreak” their iPhone (install third party software to enable the iPhone to do things it previously couldn’t), you may consider using Sara. The website for this digital assistant says it is for iPhones and iPod Touch’s up to and including the iPhone 4. So it’s uncertain how the app will work on newer devices.
But before jailbreaking your phone, be aware that you will be voiding your warranty and thus have little recourse if there is a problem with installation.
If your business involves remembering many dates or times, this next digital assitant may be a good fit. EasilyDo tries to take care of all your reminders. It can also send you directions to and from work and other important destinations, set up and schedule Facebook updates and keep track of your travel tickets and boarding passes. It can also manage your contacts, merging duplicate entries, adding new details to existing contacts, and so forth.
Though apparently no longer available, Donna is a digital assistant worth mentioning. Named after the character Donna Moss in the TV series “The West Wing,” the app collected and managed a wide range of information. This included an ever increasing list of resources including local traffic information, parking information, driving directions from Google and, of course, information from your own digital calendar.
The app’s maker, Incredible Labs, was acquired by Yahoo, however. And Donna was scheduled to be shut down. An email to Yahoo asking about Donna’s status was not answered at the time of this publication.
Using Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock