Cortana Adds NFL Predictions

Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant introduced in Windows Phone 8.1, has had the ability to predict outcomes of some events. Most recently, she did a near-perfect job of predicting World Cup results.

In an announcement on September 3, Microsoft says they have added NFL to the list of events that Cortana can predict. The American football season starts on September 4, so it is timely. In order to use this feature, just ask Cortana: “Who will win, team A or team B?”

Cortana’s prediction feature is based on Bing’s prediction engine. Bing on the desktop has enabled such predictions for reality shows on TV like the singing competition The Voice before.

Microsoft has earlier explained how Bing Predicts works, and how it is able to predict with a high level of accuracy. It is natural that they use all the signals and the data they have, to take it to one of the most popular sporting events in the American calendar.

For NFL predictions, Walter Sun from the Bing Predicts team says:

For pro football, we model the respective strengths of the teams by examining outcomes from previous seasons including wins, losses, and the very rare tie outcome (two games since 2009), factoring in margin of victories, location of contest, playing surface and roof cover (or lack thereof), weather and temperature conditions, scoring by quarters, and multiple offensive and defensive statistics.  In addition to this prior model, we identify fans on Web and Social sites and track their sentiment to understand the aggregate wisdom of this expressive crowd.  This introduces data which statistics alone cannot capture, providing real-time adjustments which surprisingly can capture injury news and other substantive factors in win probabilities.

I understand these things are more fun than useful, and I am not sure anyone who gambles will rely on this to make any bets, but it is good to see Microsoft showing off their machine learning prowess through normal use cases like predictions of NFL games.

NFL Predictions in Cortana
NFL Predictions in Cortana

If you are on Windows Phone 8.1, you can start asking right away. The beauty of most of Cortana’s features is that they are all web services-enabled, which means it does not require any client or app updates. Once Microsoft turns that feature on from the server side, it is available for everyone to use.

Let us know how you like the feature in the comments below!

Apple Hires Former AltaVista and Amazon Search Exec for Siri Division

Last week, it was reported that Apple had hired a key chip designer from Samsung. AllThingsD reports that Apple has hired William Stasior, a search veteran from Amazon and early search engine AltaVista, to run its Siri division.

Stasior has an impressive pedigree (you can read his resume and see a really geeky binary image he posted of himself here). The MIT Ph.D. has taught here too and has done stints at Oracle, Netcentives and AltaVista. He came to Amazon in 2003 as its director of search and navigation.

He will now be in charge of Siri, which is Apple’s famous voice-activated personal-assistant program. The tech giant acquired Siri in April of 2010 to garner a big stake in voice-activated search.

Stasior previously lead Amazon’s A9 unit, the company’s worldwide search and search advertising division. Back in April 2010, Apple acquired Siri and made it a major part of iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S in October 2011.

The addition of Stasior may suggest where Siri as a product is headed and where Apple plans to take the product in the future.

Two New iPhone TV Ads Featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel Revealed

Today, a new iPhone commercial has aired from Verizon featuring Samuel L. Jackson on ESPN. The ad reportedly first aired on ESPN’s Sportscenter, which seems to be a Verizon-made commercial, reports The Next Web.

In the 30 second ad, Jackson uses Apple’s Siri as he makes gazpacho. He asks Siri software for cooking directions, where to buy ingredients, and to set timers.

The ad seems to be an Apple creation, with the three U.S. iPhone carriers — AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon featured in the end of the ad. A similar ad featuring Zooey Deschanel has aired too. Deschanel’s ad promotes Siri on Sprint’s network.

In the past, Apple has used celebrities like Bono in iPod commercials, but it is rare for them to do so. Will Ferrell also did a number of iPod ads a few years back.

Mercedes Benz to Integrate Apple’s Siri

Mercedes Benz has announced that it will integrate Apple’s Siri in its new A-Class line of vehicles. Also, the car manufacturer will add even better support for Apple’s iPhone. Siri is the virtual assistant found in the iPhone 4S.

Parent company Daimler recently revealed an in-house-developed “Digital DriveStyle App” that will combine with a Drive Kit Plus for iPhone to incorporate the smartphone with the car’s multimedia system. According to Mercedes Benz, all of the iPhone’s integration functions can be used with Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level Audio 20 system.

Mercedes Benz Siri

In addition, the app will allow access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and will be available for download free of charge” from Apple’s iTunes Store. Other features that were announced were personalized Internet radio, navigation software from Garmin, a “Car Finder” and access to Siri. Sounds amazing! I think over the next few years, we will see car systems becoming more integrated with our devices.

Mercedes Benz says it is the  “first automotive manufacturer” to bring Apple’s Siri to a vehicle through its custom “Digital DriveStyle App.” The iPhone will be connected via an interface that was developed by the company’s accessories division. This accessory will output the iPhone’s display to the vehicle’s display while simultaneously powering and charging the device.

The car manufacturer says that the A-Class will make its world premiere at the Geneva Auto Show next month. In addition, this advanced iPhone integration will be made available in the automaker’s B-, C-, and E-Class this fall.

Siri Confirms That It Can Now Speak Japanese

Just last week we reported that  Siri, the voice assistant found in Apple’s iPhone 4S, will get support for the Chinese language next month. In addition, the report also suggested that Apple was planning to introduce support for Japanese and Russian. Today, 9to5Mac reported that watchful iPhone 4S users have noticed that Siri is now claiming to speak Japanese.

This could be evidence that Japanese support is imminent. When asked what languages it can speak, Siri responded, “I speak Japanese, English, German and French. I’m studying some new languages, too.” However, the settings pane does not provide an option for Japanese.

Currently, Siri only supports English (United States, United Kingdom, and Australia), French, and German but in Apple’s Siri FAQ the company promises support for additional languages. The FAQ notes that the company will add support for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish. Support for the Chinese language is given without a doubt due to the strong growth and demand the company is seeing in the country.

Siri Japanese

It maybe possible that Siri’s additional languages will be introduced at the iPad 3 launch next month.

Rumor: Siri Support for Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Russian Languages Coming Next Month

According to Tech in AsiaSiri, the voice assistant found in Apple’s iPhone 4S is will get support for the Chinese language next month. However, the initial Chinese support will only include Mandarin, with Cantonese and other forms being left out for the time being. The report also suggests that Apple is also planning to introduce support for  Japanese and Russian.

Currently, Siri only supports English (United States, United Kingdom, and Australia), French, and German but in Apple’s Siri FAQ the company promises support for additional languages. The FAQ notes that the company will add support for Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish. Support for the Chinese is given without a doubt due to the strong growth and demand the company is seeing in the country. Apple launched the iPhone 4S on partner carrier in China Unicom last month and new rumors suggest that it may debut on China Telecom very soon.

Another important market for Apple is Japan, with the company having presence with users and where the iPhone 4S debuted as part of the first round of launching in mid-October. The company has paid less attention on Russia, but along with Brazil, India, and China, the country is considered to be another likely place Apple can gain momentum.

Siri Represents 25% of Wolfram Alpha Queries

Nobody’s using Siri, eh? Well, think again. Today, a new report reveals that about one quarter of the queries to Wolfram Alpha now come from the Siri voice assistant integrated in Apple’s iPhone 4S. The New York Times reveals that because of Siri, the company’s staff has grown to 200 people. Do I smell a worthy Google competitor in the making? ;-)

Siri accounts for about a quarter of the queries fielded by Wolfram Alpha, whose staff has grown to 200.

The company first began using Wolfram Alpha when it launched Siri with the iPhone 4S last October. Wolfram Alpha allows users type in complex factual queries, and the answer engine will automatically generate accurate answers from its structured data containing hundreds of datasets.

Now, if we take a look at the bigger picture, this could be a severe threat to Google’s search business. What Apple is essentially doing with Siri is transitioning users away from a search engine to an answer engine. For example, if I type in Google “When is Christmas?”, it will give me a bunch of weblinks. However, Siri on the other hand will give me a direct answer. Since Google’s large chunk of revenue comes from the ad/search business, Siri can directly harm their revenue stream since there are no ads in the service. In fact, it has already proven to do so.

This May be Why Siri is Limited to the iPhone 4S

Learn more about Siri

Even to this day, people wonder why Siri is exclusive to the iPhone 4S. Some say it is because Apple’s “evil” and others say it is due to the new hardware the iPhone 4S utilizes. Nobody knows the real answer to date, but there are many theories that have been formed. CNETreports that according to a new research from analyst Linley Gwennap, who believes that the custom circuitry in Apple’s A5 chip including “earSmart” noise cancellation technology from Audience is the reason why Siri is exclusive to the iPhone 4S.

The earSmart technology discovered is apparently supposed to be betteer at reducing background noise than the technology used in the iPhone 4. This enables Siri to more easily pick out the user’s voice. His source was Audience’s S-1 filing which made its way to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as the company moves forward to becoming a publicly traded company.

Audience revealed details of its Apple partnership in January, when it filed paperwork for an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. Teardown work from iFixit and Chipworks revealed a dedicated Audience chip in the iPhone 4, but the iPhone 4S integrates Audience’s “EarSmart” technology directly into the A5 processor, the company’s S-1 filing said. […]

“Even after accounting for the dual Cortex-A9 CPUs and the large GPU that provides the A5 with industry-leading 3D graphics performance, the remaining die area seems too large for the usual mundane housekeeping logic,” Gwennap said in a report yesterday. “To reduce system cost and eliminate the extra package required for the Audience chip, Apple cut a deal to integrate the noise-reduction technology directly into its A5 processor, which appears in the iPhone 4S.”

In addition, the maker of the earSmart technology highlights in its S-1, that it is now receiving royalties from Apple. The royalties are lower than the payments it had previously received for the specific chips. Another interesting disclosure the company made is that it has licensed its next-generation noise cancellation intellectual property to Apple, although Apple is under no obligation to use it in future devices.

Commencing in the three months ended December 31, 2011, Apple has integrated our processor IP [intellectual property] in certain of its mobile phones. Pursuant to our agreement, this OEM [original equipment manufacturer] will pay us a royalty, on a quarterly basis, for the use of our processor IP for all mobile phones in which it is used. We have granted a similar license to this OEM for a new generation of processor IP; however, this OEM is not obligated to incorporate our processor IP into any of its current or future mobile devices.

Bottom line is that Apple isn’t being evil. If Apple would have been able to make Siri work great on other devices, they probably would have by now. By the way, hey Android owners, receive that OS update yet?

Siri Alternatives for Android

Being an Android user I have to admit a little jealousy when I saw my iFriends playing with their new Siri voice assistant on their new iPhones. In case you have been sleeping under a rock, Siri is an app that was made available on the new Apple iPhone 4s. The app acts as a voice activated personal assistant. Here is a link if you would like to read more about it. That being said, I decided to go on a quest to find an Android alternative to Siri.

Before I dig into my little review here, let me first say a couple of things. This is not an end-all-be-all list of Siri alternatives, but rather a small list of ones that I have tried and found worth mentioning. I also want to say that I have the LG Optimus T, which is not the most cutting edge technology however, I really like it. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dig into the review.

My search for Siri alternatives began by searching the Android Market on my phone. I used a simple search term “Siri alternatives for Android”. I was blown away by how many of them came my way. Here are a few that I found noteworthy.






The first assistant I tried was one called Iris. Seemed like the natural one to start with as it is Siri spelled backwards. It was highly touted in the reviews. My initial reaction after installing it was that it was pretty clean looking. You can see a screenshot pictured below.

Courtesy Android Market

You basically had a black screen with a button at the bottom and the logo to the bottom right. You simply tap the button at the bottom and ask it a question. Of all the apps I tried, Iris interpreted what I said quicker and more accurately. Doing general searches for information was pretty easy with Iris. It seems to have a pretty extensive database on the back end and does a good job most of the time. However, there were times when I would ask a question and it would respond with something really off the wall. It also didn’t seem to integrate well with system type commands. For instance, I tried several different ways to get it to wake me up at a certain time and just didn’t want to go there. I was able to get it to send a text message for me but had trouble getting it to make a call.


Next comes Skyvi. Skyvi incorporates a technology called “Beacons”. For instance, you can program it notify you when you get near your pharmacy so you remember to pick up your medicine. I found that to be pretty unique and useful. See the screenshot below.

Courtesy Android Market

This one was pretty easy to use and attempts to be entertaining at times. One thing I like is that you can hit the little home button and it will give you some hints as to what you can do with it. I found it to be a little clunky though. It misinterpreted me quite a bit. I feel like this app has a lot of potential but they have a ways to go if they want to to be “better than Siri” as they claim they want to be in their description.

Speaktoit Assistant

Speaktoit Assistant was pretty fun I have to admit. First of all, you get to design the look of your assistant to your liking. She can have different color hair, skin, eyes, clothes, etc… You can even give her a better voice instead of that robotic Android voice. She will even smile at you! Though entertaining, it wasn’t quite as useful as I thought it could be. It did have some trouble with interpreting at times. Search queries didn’t go as well with this one either. “Where was George Washington born?” brought back the answer “I’m not exactly sure.” It was also the slowest to respond of all I tried. One positive I can say about it was that it was able to interact pretty well with my Facebook status updates. You can see an example screenshot pictured below.

Courtesy Android Market


The last app I tried was Vlingo. Things didn’t start out so well with these guys. The first day I downloaded it I couldn’t get any responses. It had raving reviews on the market so I decided to give them a chance and contact customer support. To their credit, they contacted me pretty quickly and let me know that their network was down the day I tried. So I reinstalled the app and it worked pretty well. Vlingo’s database is pretty extensive, though if I were playing Trivial Pursuit I would still want Iris. The thing I liked the most about Vlingo was the “InCar” feature. You can see this pictured below. In this mode you can send messages and make calls without having to touch the phone at all. Just say “Hey Vlingo” and it responds to you. This feature works pretty well. This is a great alternative for people who like to hear their messages while on the go.

Courtesy Android Market

In conclusion, all of these apps have their strengths, but they also have glaring weaknesses. At this moment I couldn’t highly recommend any one of these over the other because they all have features that might be useful to different people. The short answer would be that all are worth trying. In doing so you might find one of them that suits your needs just fine. Just don’t expect any of them to blow Siri out of the water.


Apple’s Siri Can Now Help You Shop for Electronics

Learn more about Siri

With the introduction of the iPhone 4S, Apple also introduced an artificial intelligence agent called “Siri.” Siri is capable of doing many things (ex: create a task, read out loud an email), but it also is integrated with one of the most powerful search engines; Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha plus Siri allows users to find out what flights are above them, solve math problems, and much more!

Today, Wolfram Alpha has quietly announced that it is now pulling data from Best Buy’s public APIs to enable queries against the retailer’s database of 35,000 consumer products. This means that iPhone 4S Siri users have a new way to shop and compare products using their voice. Sorry Android owners, you are once again left out in the dark.

Users can search now for a general product category or a specific product model and obtain a detailed report detailing product features, prices and availability, users ratings, price comparisons with similar models. Oh, but it just doesn’t stop there!  Wolfram Alpha notes that users can even shop for products based on their specific needs, such as asking for “the lightest digital camera under $100 with a pixel resolution greater than 12MP.This is just one step forward to moving away from answer engines to search engines.

Siri Best Buy

Currently, the Best Buy  data is only available to users in the United States. Yesterday, Apple released a new ad promoting the iPhone 4S and Siri, but the ad never actually mentiones or displays the words “iPhone 4S” or “Siri.” You know your brand is strong built when you don’t have to mention a feature or the product’s name. Which other company can do that today?

[image credit: AppleInsider]