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Schmidt sees Siri as a 'threat' to Google's search business

Google's chairman called Apple's voice assistant service a "significant development" during a Senate hearing in September.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt testifies before a senate subcommittee investigating Google's dominance in Web search. CNET

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt sees Apple's voice assistant Siri as a "significant development" that could threaten the Web search giant's business.

"Apple's Siri is a significant development--a voice-activated means of accessing answers through iPhones that demonstrates the innovations in search," Schmidt said during an appearance before a Senate antitrust subcommittee in September. "Google has many strong competitors and we sometimes fail to anticipate the competitive threat posed by new methods of accessing information."

Siri uses the iPhone 4S' built-in microphone to take user commands and turn them into actions on the phone. That includes things that make use of a network connection, like searching the Web, setting reminders, and checking stock prices.

Schmidt and some Google rivals appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee as that panel looked to determine whether Google abuses its power in online search. Some of Google's competitors told senators during the hearing that Google "doesn't play fair" and "rigs" search results.

He noted that some publications had referred to Siri as Apple's "entry point" to the search sector and a "Google killer." He also backpedaled on earlier statements, saying he was "clearly wrong" when he said Apple and Facebook were not Web search competitors.

"The importance of social networking to consumers' online experience has changed remarkably--even over the past year," he said. "Consumers are looking for answers when they conduct searches online, and social search has become a serious competitor in helping people find those answers online."

Apple released the voice assistant service as an exclusive to the iPhone 4S, which launched in the U.S. on October 14. Apple obtained the software with the purchase of app developer Siri in April 2010. The company says it plans to add support for additional languages, as well as bringing over some U.S. only features like maps and local search sometime next year.