'Siri, is there a comparable Android alternative?'

Does Android have an answer to the iPhone 4S' most compelling feature?

Is Apple's Siri that far ahead of its Android counterparts?
Dexetra/Android Market)

Of all the features introduced in the iPhone 4S, Siri is the one that has people really talking. Literally.

The concept of using a smartphone as a personal assistant is certainly appealing, but it's not necessarily new. Take for instance Voice Actions, a Google feature introduced for 2.2 devices, that lets users call contacts, send messages, complete common tasks, and more.

There are also many applications already in the market that let users ask questions or use commands, although none is quite as well-rounded as Siri. However, a new app recently landed on the scene that looks to take Apple's friendly assistant head on.

Say hello to Iris.

Iris (Intelligent Rival Imitation of Siri, or Siri backward) surfaced in the wake of Siri's debut and is touted as one of Android's best alternatives. In theory, Iris works exactly like Siri in that it returns answers based on questions generated by the user. The interface is somewhat similar and features a singular button that you press prior to engaging the app. Currently available in an alpha release, Iris is said to have been put together in the span of only 8 hours.

After spending roughly 30 minutes of asking Iris questions and giving instructions, it became obvious that this app has a long way to go. When asked whether the Rangers won last night, the app returned multiple incorrect answers, none of which pertained to baseball. I could not get Iris to forecast the weather nor was I able to schedule a reminder or calendar appointment.

The Android Market description tells us that Iris is designed to answer questions based on philosophy, culture, history, science, and general conversation. My best advice for using Iris is to ask it basic questions that Wikipedia could answer. For example, "Who is Kirby Puckett?" will return an answer, but "Who won the Super Bowl?" will stump the app.

The developers of Iris, Dexetra, also have another Android title that could be considered smarter than the average app. Called Friday, it keeps a watchful eye on everything that happens to an Android smartphone, quietly logging everything from call logs and messages to GPS location and battery usage.

I had a chance to play with Friday back in the spring and found it to be very handy. Although not something I would use every day, it was perfect for answering questions such as, "Where did I go last Thursday?" or "How many times did my wife call in August?" Friday also made it easy to filter text messages based on dates, users, and other criteria.

From what I can gather, Friday and Iris could (and should) be combined into one application. Toss in a few other features, such as Wolfram Alpha search and tighter integration to weather services, and we're on the right track. For now, though, I will bid adieu to Iris and return to my previous favorite voice app, Vlingo.

If you're one who likes to experiment with beta apps or compare emerging technologies, there are other titles to check out, such as Eva, Speaktoit, and Jeannie. Given the popularity around Siri and voice-to-text actions, I suspect even more players will emerge for Android over the next few months.