Is Apple's Siri Getting a Language Make-over? And What Does Nina Have to Say?

Posted by Renato Beninatto
on Tue, Feb 26, 2013 @ 08:41 AM

What can I help you withSiri, that well-known voice of iPhone, is becoming more fluent than ever in a range of new languages. Apple recently equipped Siri to understand and speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and Korean. Moreover, Siri can now support German, both UK and Australian English, French and Canadian French. Future iOS updates may include even more. According to CNET, Apple advertised Siri job postings for speakers fluent in Arabic, Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch.

With competing voice and translation apps, including the impressive Nina, how will Siri continue to matter?

Siri's Cloud-Based Language Translation

Siri's make-over doesn’t merely include the new language platforms. Apple's favorite girl has also developed her knack for translation. PC World reported that "Apple is planning to equip its Siri voice recognition with a babel fish-like language translation capability." Aside from expanded capabilities to translate dialects, Apple's new patent is designed as "a cloud-based system that captures audio in one language and then issues a translation in the user's language.The voice commands are recorded by the iPhone and then shipped to the cloud for interpretation," according to PC World.

More Room for Improvement

Of course, Siri is still learning and the art of machine translation isn't without its technical challenges for the iPhone virtual assistant. Apple Insider reported that some Japanese dialects had proven to be difficult. According to their report, "Siri was able to understand basic commands, but it had difficulty registering more advanced requests."

Further enhancements to Siri will also involve her language ability. Various Apple watch groups have their eyes—and ears—tuned to Apple's work on Siri. iMore asserts that when it comes to enhanced "natural language" platforms, "it's not hard to imagine Siri continuing to improve and expand until it can do pretty much everything the Home screen, Spring Board system can do, only with voice rather than multitouch gestures."

Language Learning on Your iPhone

Siri may be one of the more novel interactive language experiences on the iPhone, but she isn't the only thing going on the language front. There are various other voice-based apps fashioned for the iPhone. The iTranslate VOICE app, for instance, allows you to "speak into your phone and it immediately speaks back to you in one of our 36 languages."

Yet, the range of language learning and translation apps for the iPhone is filled with a myriad of innovative platforms. The Times of India recently reported about a phenomenal camera-based app made for both iPhone and Android. "WordLens uses the phone's inbuilt camera to recognize text that is viewed through the lens, and then translates it into English." The app currently translates French, Italian, and Spanish to English.

Apps that contain actual coursework have also been designed for use on the iPhone. In a New York Times business tech article, the app Living Language was praised for its language learning experience. "Regardless of the language you choose, the lessons include a range of surprising and engaging exercises and games that test and build knowledge," according to the report.  Currently, there are hundreds of language apps for the iPhone, but one thing Siri has in her favor—she comes free with the phone.

Siri's not the Only Girl Who Knows French

PCMag asserts that Nina may pose competition for Siri. Nina, the virtual mobile assistant designed by Nuance Communications, is now on the international map—and she's enhanced with thirty-eight new languages. Nina is compatible with both iPhones and Androids and, like Siri, she also connects to a "virtual assistant cloud" and delivers "interactive dialogue and language understanding."

Apparently, Nina isn't a mere upstart either. According to revered tech analyst Charles King of Pund-IT in a report by TechNewsWorld, "'Nuance has an enormous amount of experience in this space and is dedicated to voice recognition'." He also stated that "Nina is almost certain to give Siri serious competition—especially in the business space."

While Siri certainly has the brand recognition, it will be interesting to see if Nina and her new language skills can compete. With her international launch, Nina is the most serious competition Siri has faced to date, but both virtual assistants are having their bugs worked out and gaining more enhancements to their platforms.

But watch groups are, well, watching to see how these girls will square off in the coming year and the idea was posed by ITIC principal Laura DiDio that "Apple will certainly be looking at the advantages Nina has over its own product and likely work to match it …and if Nina really starts to take off, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them acquired," according to the TechNewsWorld report.

Do you have a favorite translation app that you'd like to recommend? Drop a note in the comments!

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