Evi, a new rival to Siri, Apple's voice-driven personal assistant, has made its debut on both the iPhone and the Android. And people are so keen to try it out that Evi's servers are overloaded - so be prepared for a wait for answers.
Just as the media was starting to proclaim that people were getting bored of Siri, the voice-driven personal assistant built into the iPhone4S, we now have Evi for both iPhone and Android.
You can down load Evi from iTunes for $0.99 and for free from the Android store.
Apple's advantage with Siri was to get it to market, not to have invented the technology. Speech-to-text is tricky, but there are well-known approaches to the problem that work quite well. Text-to-speech is even easier and there is no monopoly here. Language understanding is a bit more of a tough nut to crack, but again there are companies who have been trying for a long time. Mostly these companies have kept their products as server-based APIs that can be used to build other high end services.
True Knowlege, for example, has offered a web-based question-answering service for some time. You can try out its knowledge engine at the website and see how this might work as a Siri competitor because all that is needed to transform this into Evi is the speech processing.
Although don't expect the answer to be deep or informative:
Here's a very introductory video on the technology:
You can think of Siri as being a front end for the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine and Evi as a front end for True Knowledge. Currently the problem is that Evi isn't as well integrated with the phone's other software, such as the calendar, but this should be easy to add in the next version.
Overall the impression seems to be that Evi has more knowledge and is better at delivering it. So far we don't have a cute collection of things that Evi says, but perhaps this is a sign that the software is more serious.
You can see Evi in action in the video:
The amazing thing is the it appears that end users aren't completely bored with intelligent software. Despite the shock horror news that an iPhone with Siri consumes nearly double the amount of data, users seem to want to give Evi a try - despite its name which on a quick straw poll suggests Evi-l in the mind of more than one user.
Even though it was introduced a few days ago, the servers that all of Evi's questions are routed through have been overloaded to the point that users are beginning to be more than a little annoyed. Still as it is a free or almost free service there is no obvious remedy. More servers are being deployed, but it is difficult to see what True Knowledge is getting out of the deal.
So if you download Evi be patient - she seems to be very much in demand at the moment.