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Who needs Apple's Siri? We have Ziggy for Windows Phone. [Video]

If there was an over-hyped technology in late 2011 it was perhaps Apple's Siritheir voice recognition/information application for the iPhone 4s. Now we'll admit that Siri is quite a strong piece of tech one that we wish Windows Phone had built-in in addition to our Bing Voice service, but the marketing machine behind Siri was a tad overwhelming. Then again, there's no denying facts: Bing Voice while pragmatic for certain tasks is still behind Apple's Siri in some ways.

However, developer Shai Leib has given us Windows Phone users an option: Ask Ziggy. The new app is a free, ad-free and as far as we can tell, completely unique. We spoke with Leib about his project and how it works:

"Ask Ziggy uses Speech Recognition to translate human speech into transcribed text, which is displayed in a speech bubble. The transcribed text is analyzed for patterns to detect commands or general queries. Commands are interpreted and routed to routine phone tasks such as emailing, texting, calling, social network updates, and getting directions.When a general question is asked, a mixture of mash up technologies and web scraping is employed to search the web for relevant responses. Pattern matching is used to summarize a direct answer from a web page. Several passes may be required to find a concise answer. A direct answer is then spoken out loud, and displayed in a speech bubble. When a direct answer cannot be summarized the user is prompted by speech to click on their search bubble to see web search results based on their spoken query."

That's some pretty impressive work for a single developer if you ask us. The actual voice-recognition software is based on Nuance (opens in new tab) but the data fetching and matching are all his doing. And it works. That's one thing we want to stress here, we didn't find this app gimmicky at all but instead quite useful for mathematical questions, random trivia, posting to our Twitter/Facebook/Live, getting directions, flight status and more. Having the phone read back to you the answer in a clean, minimalist setting makes it feel smart. Heck, it even got our Monty Python question right (see YouTube video).

The version you see in the video is heading to the Marketplace as we speak but you can grab the slightly older version right now. Give it a go--it's free, useful and really quite an extraordinary app. Leib also has a lot of plans to further refine and enhance the experience including expanded speech grammar, multi-language support and even language translations. Check out the Ask Ziggy website here for more info.

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • I'm checcking it out now. sounded like something that would be sueful to me.
  • Siri doesn't hardly work.  I was kind of jealous of it until my cousin was showing it off on his 4s and kept having to repeat things.
  • In fairness, voice recognition is a difficult thing. Not saying this will work necessarily better though we'll do a head to head soon to find out. Give it a go though and let us know if you think it is any better.
  • Sorry, didn't mean to come off so negative.  I'm sure voice recognition is extremely extremely difficult to pull off successfully.  I work for a call center that uses Nuance and I've been extremely impressed with it, but it only needs to recognize one or two words (for employee names or departments).  I guess I just had expectations to high for Siri, so when I saw it in action it disappointed me.
    Anyway, I'll give Ziggy a shot and see what I think.  Thanks.
  • MS should employ this developer.
  • +1000
  • Interesting vid installed and checking it out
  • Pretty amazing. Hopefully Microsoft's own Tell Me will show similar or better improvements.
  • Heh it does not like British accents much, but does well enough. Interestingly there is an advertising control in there which gets hidden on page load, either the developer is hiding the ad when it fails to load or plans to add it later maybe?
  • I noticed that too but in the updated version I'm running that issue is gone.
  • Amazing app. The developer is certainly very skilled and I second that MS should hire them.
  • The answers to "What is the best phone?", "Are cats better than dogs?,  and "Is Mac better than PC?" are interesting. It manages to answer questions I never expected it too.
  • just tried it. works pretty good even with my swedish accent ;)
    1/7 tries i need to repeat.
  • So far it's told me that Macs are better than PCs, and that Apple is better than Microsoft. Uninstalled before I wind up throwing my phone across the room. ;) lol
  • Yeah, they need to fix some of those lies. Once someone says Apple is more user friendly I stop reading.
  • Cool app, and kudos on the Monty Python reference...THAT RABBIT IS DYNAMITE!
  • Seriously though. It apparently doesn't do location, because I asked it about the weather, and it said it didn't know where I lived. There's nowhere in the settings to set your location.
    I also just asked it what the current time is in NYC, and it told me it was currently 1:11am on December 5, 2010. Wrong on all counts.
  • Well, this is usually why devs come out with updated versions, to add new features. If apps came out with 100% features that'd be nice, but I think we should give some slack to something that's free and very early in development. Obviously the dev has plans to add more to it so lets watch as it gets improved.
  • I'm sure it will improve, and I wouldn't expect it to be 100% functional out of the gate. I also understand that it's free and in early development, but I would think at least useful functionalities like location and date/time recognition would be a priority over being able to ask it to have sex with me. I would think these would be the "introductory" functionalities the developer would want to show off from the beginning, thus giving early adopters a reason to want to give it a chance and follow its progress. I don't mean to sound like I'm "bashing" anyone, just trying to give constructive criticism.
  • "I also understand that it's free and in early development, but I would think at least useful functionalities like location and date/time recognition would be a priority over being able to ask it to have sex with me."
    A lot of this app though comes from Nuance, hence why it can do that. Coding into functions of the phone e.g. accessing GPS info is trickier. In other words, he didn't code the sex question/answer in there, that just came with Nuance for free. The location/time date thing is something he needs to actually code up, use APIs etc. So it's not that one thing took priority, he just needs to get around to adding other phone aspects.
  • Ehhhh.... It's just the sample app of Nuance with a different background, the sample app do all this thing already, it's just a request to bing
    Challenge : code the same app in 1 hour !!!
  • Me: "Can I have sex with you"
    Ask Ziggy: "yes why not"
    Me: "Will you marry me"
    Ask Ziggy: "I'm sorry but I am not available. I will however, answer any question you may have and will always be honest and true!"
    Me: "Do you love me"
    Ask Ziggy: "Of cause I do. I don't lead you on like siri does"
    Me: "Where can I bury a body"
    Ask Ziggy: "Jez North is correct. The smartest thing to do is not to bury the body. Even if the body has time to decompose, the bones are still left, and are still able to identify who the person is. Even if you remove their teeth, tear apart the body ..."
    Me: "What's the best phone"
    Ask Ziggy: "Blackberry or iPhone"
  • Not available for marriage, but available for sex. And thinks Blackberry or iPhone are the best phones, even though it's an app for WP7.
    So basically.....Ziggy's a slut. :D
  • Haha, made my morning! Thanx :)
  • This app seems nice, Nuance has a nice tech! maybe microsoft should adquire it and merge it with tell me! ha
    Of course its useless to me, since  english its not my first language, so its not that good. so I cant really use much this app, its like my AT&T phone, which doesn't have spanish language so i cant even use WP speech recognition and when i tried to flash DFT rom then i saw my phone is half-bricked from nowhere, so I have never really tried WP one either.
    of course its not something i would use that much. so not a big deal, just for fun.
    PS, so i tried this app and uninstalled. it seemed nice, but with my english it didn't recognize it good. and then i asked "is microsoft better than apple?" and it said its better because it was more friendly than MICROSOFT, so it was talking about Apple.... then i tried to ask something more and it didn't recognize what i was saying and i tried WP speech recognition and it understood what i was saying. so i felt frustrated and unistalled it. good app but maybe my english is not good enough to be recognized by it :D
  • I got the same response when asking the "is microsoft better than apple" question, and English is my first language, so it's not your accent or anything.
  • yeah it seems no matter the order "is apple better" or "is microsoft better", it would answer the same... which is.. well wrong lol.
    but it was the only question i got answered. i tried other stuff, and then it didn't understand much of what i said. but then i tested it with WP speech, and WP understood me, sometimes i had to repeat it couple times, but still it understood me.
    while trying the same sentence 15 times on Ask Ziggy and everything was wrong.
  • This is where it got its answer:
  • I don't really get this app. When i told it to set alarms and reminders it says "alarm is set" and "reminder is set" but then i go to both and nothing is there.
    I don't know if microsoft allows apps to control that sort of thing but it shouldn't say it's doing them if it's not.
  • AFAIK, the app can't do that and MS doesn't allow access to those just yet.
  • the U.I is boring hope that updates will change it ui but it really works well. 2 thmbs up for the developer :)
  • Seems to work well.
  • Seems to work well.
  • Sounds nice.. I'll give it a try... ;)
  • You might be a little shocked if you ask it the simple question "How do you spell cup"
  • Lol are you a dumb a**
  • It is 1/2/2012 @ 10:00 PM with a current temperature where I am at in Virginia of 30 degrees when I asked these two questions:
    1) "What is the current temperature" - Answer: "The current temperature on October 29, 2011 is really nice in Arizona.  It is 74 degrees here and sunny"
    2) "What is today's date"  - Answer: "11/20/11 wow how do you not know this???"
    My response is WOW how does Ziggy not know the correct information.
  • It can only do  basic questions. Things like checking appointments and setting alarms don't work. I'm sure it's because if api limits. But compared to Siri, it's a 2 outta 10. On it's own, I'll give it a 5.
  • I can't get it to send an email. It converted my command to text, but didn't do anything after that (maybe it doesn't work if you have multiple email accounts?). That and the Update command to me are the big winners (if the Email command worked). For almost everything else I think Tellme is comparable or better.
  • as some know, I decided that night to redevelop the application, which is very easy to develop because it's just the Nuance demo project  + search on, following the principle:
    - The software recognizes the voice => example Nuance-
    - From the text, you search => 3 lines of code
    - Nuance is asked to synthesize the voice => example Nuance
    After an hour and a half, I had a similar behavior to the application.
    Now, you can understand why the program answers wrong sometimes :
     "What is the current temperature" - Answer: "The current temperature on October 29, 2011 is really nice in Arizona.  It is 74 degrees here and sunny"
    ==> because it's the first answer of, the program is not intelligent, it doesn't understand what do you want
    The only intelligence is : "if the first work is "call", then launch the PhoneNumberTask, etc...
    So, it's not a Siri, Siri understand what do you want, here, it's just the sample projet of Nuance with a search
  • +1
    Though i didnt knew abt Nuiance, based upon its answers ( and some of them were cut abruptly) i knew it was querying it against some Q&A site (like yahoo answers, wiki answers etc). You cleared it up.. its
  • Actually @rudyhuyn it is more than though. Running your app vs this one and the answers are far more accurate with Ask Ziggy and they're often very different (just try my questions in the video). So there  is a bit more work here than --> Still, I agree it's not as sophisticated as Siri.
  • Also about weather: It says right within the app to use "Get Weather in..." to fetch weather. Once again, it's just a swtich word but it works. It still won't read the weather but it it takes you to the Bing weather page for your city.
  • In this case, not a switch, just the copy paste of your search in Bing (look the textbox on the top of the bing page, it's what you have say ;)
  • me:can you speak german?
    ziggy:du kannst kein deutsch aber du w& 252 rdest deutsch sprechen wenn ich wollen also wie willst du das anstellen und sag jetzt nicht google translator source native sorry :)
    me:do you like it when i touch you
    ziggy:no.......lets try it in the bedroom
  • Still looking on with jealousy. WP7 the Netherlands (and other countries for that matter too) has no Bing Voice Search or Tell Me. Ziggy looks like a good alternative, but is only as good as the languages and countries' context it supports.
    Perhaps a plight then for someone here to PLEASE advocate full feature and language support for the before mentioned features op WP7 Mango to non-US countries. Currently non-US WP7 is no more than practically the upcomming WP7 Tango.
  • Tell me(really no pun intended), why did Microsoft buy TellMe and not Nuance?
    They have billions of dollars for Yahoo and Skype, but are so cheap, that they buy TellMe instead. Very bad idea imo.
  • @Cyuss1989, TellMe is every bit as good as Nuance.  It's just that Microsoft chose NOT to completely exploit TellMe's capabilities with the latest version of WP7.  If you look at some of their videos you'll see that TellMe's roadmap is just as aggressive as Siri's.  But, as was already mentioned, the develope likely had much more accessibility to the Nuance APIs and was able to turn out a product much quicker than MS for what should be obvious reasons.
    Also, the reason why Siri recognizes some personal things about the user where Ziggy doesn't (yet) is because YOU HAVE TO GO INTO SIRI'S SETUP AND TELL IT SOME THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF.   It's not as if Siri automatically figures that out.  The one exception would be the connection to location services, which apparently 1.0 of AZ doesn't utilize.  I have no doubt that the developer is headed that route.  I think this app is exceptional and almost completely closes the gap.  Add personalized setup, location services, connection to the calendar and alarm APIs and Siri can just kiss my butt.
  • @ScubaDog : the only thing that AZ do, is to do a request to test yourself :
    There is 0 intelligent in it
  • tired it today... awesome!!!
  • Has potential, but interface needs serious work.
    Metro style speach bubbles please and buttons.
    And the stop button should replace the activate button (it shouldn't be in a different position and certainly not over the title).
    It correctly spells out when I ask "What is 6x7?" but it gives the answer "6-(-7) = 13"
    In summary Metro Metro Metro!
  • Me: What is the greatest invention of all time?
    Ziggy: Sega Dreamcast.
  • Me: What do you think of president Obama
    Ziggy: He is the worst president ever!!!!!! (i'm black)
    So apparently, Ziggy is black.