Guest Post: In the (near) future, there will be Siri!
One of the most impressive features of the new iPhone 4S is undoubtedly the built-in assistant, Siri. Sprung from a company that Apple acquired last year shortly after it debuted an app, also named Siri, on the app store. What that version of Siri did was a sort of embryo of what we now see built into the very core of iOS. You could give natural speech commands, but what you could do with them was much more limited than this upgraded Siri.
Assuming that Siri will work at least as well as Apple lets on in the demo video, this could mean a world of change for how we use the iPhone. Real time dictation of text for SMS or e-mail is now realistic and soon to be trivial, as long as we want to do it. When we need a fast way of entering text in a situation where we would prefer to keep our hands elsewhere, like driving or jogging, this could be the way to do it. While there might be some social stigma associated with talking to a device, I believe it will be practical enough for many people to use Siri in public despite this social pressure. Expect to see people yapping away at their phones, asking inane questions in the very near future.
Accessibility on the iOS platform has just been vastly improved too, where people who might suffer from problems with eyesight can give verbal commands and have the synthesized voice respond. Those who have a muscular disorder of some kind won’t have to peck away at the screen, but instead just dictate to the iPhone what they want to have written and then send it off. Very nicely demonstrated in the demo video for Siri, which I do encourage you to see.
To my knowledge there has been voice control available on the Android platform for some time, but I don’t know how well it works as I simply have no experience in using it. In a sense this at the very least ticks the box on the form that specifies that the iPhone can now do system-wide speech recognition. But judging from the way Apple is presenting Siri, that’s only the beginning. When it’s time for iOS 6, perhaps all the developers get to tie straight into Siri and extend the capabilities. Think about that for a moment and see if you can come up with some really interesting scenarios.
Do note that so far Apple have only talked about Siri on the new iPhone 4S, no other device. It could be that Apple either wants Siri to stay on the iPhone for the time being or they just want some more time to make it work in a sensible way on the iPad 2 or even the Mac. Either way and regardless of the reason, I fully expect Siri to come to all iOS devices as well as the Mac in the not too distant future. This is just too good a feature to pass up and only let live on a single device!
While other companies might be a bit relaxed when they call something a beta version, you can be sure that when Apple uses it, that really means it’s a beta version. As such I’m not quite sure what to make of Siri just yet. They clearly said that Siri is in beta mode as they add more languages, but does that mean we shouldn’t take the function as seriously as we possibly could? Judging from how well Siri, the app that was available on the app store, worked I think it’s exaggerated to call it a beta. Apple is probably trying to manage expectations in case people think it will be the second coming in computing.
Those of us who have been around for a while or are just very interested in tech and what Apple does with it, might remember the old concept videos they made back in the late 1980’s. Specifically one has come to mind as I watched the Siri announcement and its functionality; The Knowledge Navigator. Go look it up on youtube and you might start seeing Siri in a different light. The theoretical Knowledge Navigator was a good idea and it still is. We are not quite there, but Siri sure is a good step on the way towards that digital assistant I have been dreaming about for some years.
It might not be completely finished or doing everything we would want, but it’s a glimpse of the promised future as seen in sci-fi, where we can casually communicate with devices using natural speech. Given some time, I think that Siri will transform into a great way for us to interact with all our Apple devices, not just the iPhone.
Robert is a freelance tech journalist from Sweden. You can follow his posts on streakmachine.com or you can follow him on twitter @streakmachine