updated 12:25 pm EST, Sat March 3, 2012
Google Assistant said coming by late 2012
Apparent new leaks have suggested Google is developing a very broad, multi-platform alternative to Siri. So far called Assistant, the concept TechCrunch saw would translate Google's search content into a "personalization layer" that would understand the relationships between data points. A voice-based recognition engine would, like Apple's system, focus on returning a key useful result or accomplishing a task, not just pushing a raw list of results.
Rather than keep it close to the vest as Apple has so far, Google would make a developer API (programming interface) to let app writers build Assistant into their own titles. It's not clear whether this would be limited to Android or to mobile as a whole. Google has implemented hooks for voice search on the web in the past and could upgrade this engine to Assistant.
The project, reportedly helmed by search engineer Amit Singhal, may be some distance away. Assistant is tentatively due to be unveiled by the fall, but this was uncertain and might not necessarily translate to a hard launch. It's unclear whether or not the new approach was connected to the rumored Majel or entirely separate.
Extra sources for the site suggested Apple was was unintentionally hoping to counter Assistant by building Siri not just into a future TV set but to other iOS devices, possibly including the new iPad being unveiled this coming week.
Assistant, if borne out, would be an acknowledgment that Apple had leapfrogged Google's existing voice technology. Although it's possible to search using Android's Voice Actions, it simply produces a Google web result, not definite answers. The platform is also currently limited to narrow syntax and doesn't understand natural-language requests, multi-step actions, or context.
Although characterized as open, the system would contrast with Apple's in likely being entirely in-house. Google's control of both the search engine and the mobile OS would likely have it require that all search data come from its own engines. Although Apple doesn't have a choice of engines either, it's using data from not just Google but also Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, and Microsoft's Bing if enabled as the default search engine.