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Google's Rubin: Your phone is no assistant

Android's chief says you should be talking to the person on the other end of the line, not to the phone itself.

Jon Skillings Director of copy editing
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is director of copy editing at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing tech publications back when the web was just getting under way. He writes occasionally, on topics from GPS to James Bond.
Expertise language, grammar, usage Credentials
  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
Siri screen
Siri wants to hear from you. CNET

You and your smartphone may be inseparable, but that doesn't mean you ought to be best friends.

That's the essential message from Andy Rubin, Google's Android chief, who spoke at the AsiaD conference this week. Not so coincidentally, he said this just days after the launch of the iPhone 4S, a chief feature of which is Siri, a voice-activated feature that Apple is billing as a "personal assistant."

"I don't believe that your phone should be an assistant," Rubin said in an interview, as reported by AllThingsD.

Rather, he said, a telephonic gadget is a tool: "You shouldn't be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone."

Apple's Siri has been the object of great fascination for many in the short time since it burst onto the scene. People have used it to sing duets, to muse on the meaning of life, and to break into a locked iPhone 4S. They've speculated about its (her) personality and whether it will ruin our civil society.

Rubin thinks the jury's still out on whether talking to your phone like that, rather than through it to a bona fide human being, will truly catch on. "We'll see how pervasive it gets," he said in the interview, while also acknowledging that Apple succeeded in making this kind of voice technology "consumer-grade."

Android phones, by the way, also like it when you talk to them.