Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and nearly every one of the world’s largest technology companies is trying to figure out how to let computers understand human speech. Voice assistants have gained a lot of focus from these companies and not without reasons but a Santa Clara-based startup may have just cut its way to the top of the field.
Talking to our technology is considered one of the next big leaps in computing. When software has the ability to understand what we’re saying and how we’re saying it, it’ll be able to parse questions and supply answers, perform tasks on our behalf, and transform how we interact with devices. So far that vision hasn’t quite arrived. Apple’s Siri often stumbles on simple requests, while Google Now is a personality-devoid arm of the company’s search engine. Microsoft’s Cortana is trying to be both clever and useful, but it’s virtually nonexistent on mobile phones where we need it most. Amazon’s Alexa is gaining steam in the smart home, but you can’t ask it anything complex.
There seldom are times when a new product comes to market and you are flat-out amazed by how much better it is than the competition. That appears to be the case with Hound, a new voice assistant app produced by the makers of the music discovery app SoundHound.
SoundHound is best known for its music recognition app, which listens to songs and identifies them, in the same vein as Shazam. But for the last nine years, the company has been working on a virtual assistant to rival Siri, Google Now, and Cortana. Simply put, I’ve never seen a voice assistant app come even close to having the capabilities that Hound does.
Hound has been in development for a whopping nine years now and it really shows.
How it works: Open the app and either tap the microphone to ask Hound a question or just say, “OK Hound.” Then speak naturally. Hound serves up basic information like weather forecasts and what businesses are nearby, but can also tell you how far away the nearest Uber is and how much the price is surging by, calculate a mortgage for you, and tell you what hotel room rates at a pet-friendly resort with a gym will be months down the line.
In the demo video below, you’ll see how Hound can answer a huge variety of questions with insane speed that you won’t find on Siri, Google Now or Cortana. To give you an idea of how impressive it is, here are some of the questions Hound successfully answers without missing a beat.
As I said, this is extremely advanced and impressive technology. Siri might be more convenient to use, especially with Apple’s own services, like Mail, Calendar, and iMessage. But you also have to perform vocal gymnastics just to get Apple’s assistant to understand what you’re asking for, and the results are much slower than Hound’s. Sure, this app isn’t as convenient as OS-level voice-activated assistants, but it turns up results lightning fast.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the app is acquired by one of the tech giants for its technology, which is both reliable and accurate for hands-free searches, in order to make their own personal assistants better.