Siri App Challenger: Hands-On with Iris for Android
Siri, the iPhone 4S's voice-activated and controlled "personal assistant", is that phone's most talked about feature. But app developer Dextra couldn't let Apple's app go unchallenged. That's where Iris comes in. A free rival for the Android OS, Iris (Siri spelled backward) acts as a kind of voice-activated search engine that scours the web for answers to any questions you ask.
Developed in a hasty eight hours and released on the Android Market as an alpha, the app was fun to use, but hamstrung by the obvious flaws that can be attributed to the lack of testing and development time that went into Iris. We got some very strange responses during our hands-on time. When we asked Iris who won the 1986 World Series, it replied with, "France." When we asked what Iris thought about Android, it told us, "I don't think it would work as long as humans want to harm each other."
The nonsensical type of answer seemed to occur more regularly than we would have liked. But when Iris worked well it proved fairly fun to use. Not only did it reply correctly to such questions as "When did the Boxer Rebellion take place?" and "Who is the current President of the United States?" it provided clickable images that linked to the appropriate Wikipedia page.
Dexetra was clearly prepared for the onslaught of ridiculous questions users would lob at Iris, and programed the app with a host of funny, snarky, and silly replies. When we asked Iris if it was alive it replied saying, "Yes. Are you?" And when we asked it if it had a boyfriend it said, "That does not fit the context of this conversation."
Right now, Iris is basically just a silly encyclopedia. It can't find you on a map, or schedule an appointment for you, or reserve a table for you at your favorite restaurant, and it certainly doesn't reply to your questions out loud (despite it's promise that it should). But for something that only took eight hours to build, it's pretty decent. What will be truly interesting to see is how much better Dexetra can make Iris and if it will stand as a viable alternative to Siri.