With Apple’s Siri and Google Now leading the way, the race is on to create the perfect mobile virtual assistant.
Nuance, whose Dragon voice recognition technology powers Siri, is taking another stab at the field with version 3.0 of its Dragon Mobile Assistant for Android.
The free app does the usual voice-powered tricks, like telling you the weather and performing web searches, but its new features are worth a close look. You can tell the new Dragon Mobile Assistant to share your location with a friend, and it will automatically send out a text message with a link to your location. Similarly, it can also help you find lost friends (with their permission, of course).
And if you’re the type of person who books a lot of conference calls and phone meetings, Dragon Mobile Assistant can automatically dial into a call using information from your calendar entries. This could be particularly useful for conference calls that require annoying passcodes.
The app supports Android 2.3 phones and above, but it’s not as useful for modern phones that have access to Google Now (those running Android 4.1 and above). Google’s homegrown virtual assistant is far faster than Dragon’s app, in my experience. Asking Google Now for weather or a web search almost feels instantaneous, whereas Dragon’s app takes a few seconds to process your request. And while you can use Dragon Mobile Assistant to create calendar entries, it doesn’t yet have access to your calendar to read you the day’s schedule, something Google Now does with ease.
In my brief testing, I was surprised at how often Dragon’s app simply led me to a page of information, rather than actually dictating an answer. For example, if you ask it for the weather, it will simply point to a small WeatherBug widget. If you ask Google Now for the weather, it will actually read the forecast aloud.
For the most part, Dragon Mobile Assistant is an appealing option for Android phone owners with older devices, who want some of the benefits of Siri and Google Now without upgrading to a newer phone. It’s certainly a huge step up from Nuance’s first foray into Android, which came via the dictation function on Swype.