By now, everyone has heard the deafening noise surrounding Siri, Apple’s headline-grabbing virtual assistant and the key selling point of the new iPhone 4S. Most people have probably seen the TV commercials in which people from all consumer demographics turn to Siri with a seemingly limitless list of tasks, from texting loved ones to setting a reminder to buy milk. and figure out how to tie a bow tie. But what probably everyone wants to know, even those who may have spent a bit of time with Siri, is how useful the seemingly too good to be true digital companion actually is. We’ve nagged Siri with countless requests since it arrived with our iPhone 4S on launch day, and we’ve given a lot of thought to the role it can play in people’s daily digital lives today and tomorrow. Our find? Siri is not perfect. Make some silly mistakes. And in the grand scheme of things, its uses are quite limited. But when you ask it to remind you to do something, it really does. When you tell him to send a text message, he does. And when you ask “Who’s the boss?” she gets information on Bruce Springsteen. The most amazing thing about Siri is that, as amazingly cool as it looks on TV, it’s as good as advertised.
When Siri was first announced, our biggest concern was that speech recognition never seemed to be ready for prime time. Even the best dictation apps have been too imprecise, especially helpful, and don’t get us started with Apple’s frustratingly ineffective Voice Control. How well could Siri work, we wonder, if it couldn’t understand our questions and send a gibberish-filled text? Fortunately, this has proven to be another area in which Apple has succeeded after so many others have failed. Siri won’t understand everything you say and you have to speak a bit stiff to get the best results, but her dictation is very accurate. Dictating emails and text messages is so fast that the time spent cleaning them is negligible. You can even tell Siri to add punctuation as you speak, using commands like “period”, “quote / end of quote”, “uppercase” and “new line”. And Siri will take dictation in any app that incorporates the standard iOS 5 keyboard, with a quick tap of a new microphone key.
As with dictation, we found that several of Siri’s greatest benefits come from its most basic functions. Playing music in the car, for example, is much easier (and safer) with Siri playing the role of your personal DJ, especially if your car is full of kids constantly yelling random requests from the back seat. Simply telling Siri to “tap ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse'” or “play some pop songs” gets the music going quickly, even from your phone’s lock screen, without you having to take your eyes off the road. to grope through long lists of artists, albums, and playlists. Saying “Call my wife” is also more helpful than launching the phone app and scrolling through your contacts to find her. Siri is also the ultimate calculator, capable of converting measurements, determining proper tip amounts, and performing complex math formulas without needing to know how they work. It’s little things like these that have already firmly embedded Siri in our daily lives.
What’s really exciting about Siri is its seemingly limitless potential for future growth. Since all Siri thinking and fact-checking is done on remote servers and not on your phone, it stands to reason that Apple can improve Siri’s performance and develop its functionality as quickly and as often as it wants, possibly without the need. constant firmware. updates. We will be surprised that many of the rough edges found in the current beta version of the software are not removed in the coming months, followed by some obvious improvements to its existing functionality. Siri can read incoming text, for example, but it can’t currently read old texts, emails, books, web pages, or anything else. It can list nearby cinemas, but it can’t tell you what’s playing in them. It can help you create a note, but you can’t delete it.
Those shortcomings should be easy to address; It will be much more interesting to see Siri integrate with more apps and more data sources beyond Yelp and Wolfram Alpha. An ESPN or Yahoo Sports partnership, for example, might allow us to ask Siri “Who is winning the Lakers game?” And with the support of Fandango, we could ask Siri to “Order two tickets to the Immortals.” And don’t expect these useful features to be limited to the iPhone. Siri support for the next iPad is almost guaranteed (in fact, we wonder why it isn’t available for iPad 2 yet), and if the latest internet rumors are to be believed, it won’t be long before we can. Ask the virtual assistant to find our favorite shows on an Apple HDTV with Siri. And from there … the user interface and form factor could undergo radical changes. An iPhone, for example, is the size and shape it is, in part because your thumb needs to be able to reach every corner of your screen, and because the keys on an on-screen keyboard need a certain amount of space to be functional. But the more we can interact with our phones without touching or typing, the less hardware will be constrained by the factors that have determined the appearance of our devices so far.
After spending so much time with Siri, we are convinced that the feature is not a flash-in-the-pan-gimmick trick; shares the key qualities that define all Apple game changers: it makes frequent daily functions faster, easier, and more enjoyable to perform. It has that Apple magic that draws people in and delights them, but more importantly, it is significantly useful. We’re more than willing to put up with the occasional curious gaze from a stranger to avoid laboriously typing a text message on the narrow on-screen keyboard.
And yet the Siri we have today is just a starting point, crude and far from finished. In a few years, this initial version will undoubtedly seem far inferior to the improvements we will have become accustomed to. But we will also look back in some amazement and say, “That’s where it all started.”