Ever since Siri’s arrival three years ago, developers have been itching to work Apple’s voice control into their own apps. Alas, the feature has remained stubbornly trapped inside Apple’s operating system with no open API in sight. Luckily for developers, not everyone is content to let speech recognition stay locked in proprietary boxes.
Api.ai is a voice control programming interface from the folks at Speaktoit, the creators of an artificially intelligent personal assistant app. The new natural language API promises to be “the most advanced tool that allows developers to design and integrate speech interfaces into their solutions in a matter of minutes.”
The API opens up the company’s underlying speech recognition and voice control technology and allows it to be used by third-party developers on iOS, Android, or the web. It boasts a super-intuitive interface for defining custom voice commands tailored to each app’s functionality. It’s not just for smartphones, either: Api.ai is also designed to work with wearables, robots, smart home platforms, and other connected devices. The new API is clearly aiming to help enable a voice-controlled Internet of Things, much like its competitor Wit.ai.
With Api.ai, developers will be able to do things like add voice recognition to a third-party music app or let users control their smart thermostats by speaking. It could be especially useful for third-party messaging, weather, and calendar apps, since those are things people commonly use voice control for (but that functionality is lost the minute somebody switches away from Apple’s default apps).
Of course, the voice control enabled by Api.ai or an API like it won’t mimic Siri or Google Now 100%. For one thing, it won’t have the same deep, OS-level integration enjoyed by the players that control the OS and hardware. For a while there, a project called SiriProxy had effectively hacked Siri to enable all kinds of custom voice controls in third-party apps and smart objects. It was fun while it lasted, but Apple plugged the loophole with iOS 7 and the project appears to be dead in the water. More recently, students at the University of Pennsylvania crafted a new Siri hack called Googolplex that lets users control Spotify, Venmo, Instagram, and Hue light bulbs.
Hacks like these open up Siri’s functionality, but not as extensively or reliably as an official, open API would. Until that day comes, third party services like Api.ai are going to have to cut it for developers.