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Windows Phone's Siri rival off to a good start

Microsoft's mobile OS already includes its own voice recognition feature called TellMe, but the new Ask Ziggy is developer Shai Leib's attempt to bring voice assistance to a higher level.


Move over Siri. Windows Phone now has its own voice assistant, dubbed Ask Ziggy, and it seems to be a hit.

Except for some negative comments here and there, many reviewers on the MarketPlace page for the free app christened it with 4- and 5-star ratings, resulting in an average of 3.5 stars.

"Off to a great start," said one commenter. "As a proof of concept it's funny to see how Apple's 'amazing' interface can be rivaled by a single developer. Looking forward to future updates."

I ran a quick, informal competition between Ziggy and Apple's Siri, giving Siri--which debuted on the iPhone 4S in October--the same voice commands issued to Ziggy in the video displayed below.

Ziggy functions similarly to Siri at following basic voice commands. You can ask Ziggy to phone a contact or dial a specific number, and e-mail or text someone with a certain message.

You can ask Ziggy to provide directions, find local businesses, tell you the weather, perform calculations, and handle a variety of other tasks. A help page set up by the developer offers suggestions on what you can ask Ziggy.

In performing calculations, Ziggy announced the actual result, while Siri displayed the result from a Wolfram Alpha search. When Ziggy was asked for an antonym for "fatuous," she responded with several suggestions. When I asked the same question of Siri, she simple displayed a single phrase from Wolfram Alpha with no other choices. But when asked for directions, stock prices, and other basic information, both Ziggy and Siri were about on par. Both apps also direct you to the Web if they can't come up with an answer on their own.

Ziggy does offer at least one option missing in Siri. You can change Ziggy's voice to male or female. That capability seems appropriate since Ziggy is undoubtedly a reference to the computer in the 90s time-travel series "Quantum Leap." Initially referred to as a "he," Ziggy was later revealed to have a female voice and personality, courtesy of her creator.

Microsoft's mobile OS already includes its own voice recognition feature called TellMe, but Ziggy is developer Shai Leib's attempt to bring voice assistance to a higher level, as profiled in a story by enthusiast site WP Central.

Also trying to play catchup with Apple, Google is reportedly working on its own voice assistant for Android phones. Named after the late "Star Trek" actress Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who provided the voice of the computer in several of the series, Majel could start talking to Android users sometime early this year.

Next up for Ziggy
Leib, Ziggy's creator, told CNET that he's been excited about speech recognition on mobile devices and saw the benefit of a speech-driven instant answer app that can also handle routine phone tasks. Obviously aware of the comparisons with Siri, Leib said that he's working hard to add more features to Ziggy to make it unique. Creating more voices and having Ziggy speak the answer to each question are two enhancements in the works.

In development on and off since November, Ziggy went live on the Windows Phone Marketplace late December. Since then, Leib has been submitting updates every week and is currently waiting for version 1.3 to be approved. To keep up with the demands of developing the app, he's also looking for investors.

What's next for Ziggy? Leib said that he's trying to expand her grammar so she can carry on more of a conversation. He's also eyeing support for other languages and is looking to integrate Ziggy with other apps.

Updated 10:15 a.m. PT with comments from Ziggy's creator.