You’ll notice there is not a question mark at the end of the blog title for today. Please don’t confuse me with someone questioning the effectiveness or practicality of Siri. Quite the contrary. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been forced to persuade several current iPhone 4S users to use Siri because they either 1) didn’t see the point, or 2) had Siri misunderstand them once and gave up using it. Now I’m not one to go around and occasionally tell people how to use their phones. There’s really nothing occasional about it; I do it all the time. And so, as not to disappoint, I’ll make the same
command comment to you:
Use Siri! Please!
As I am woefully short on hours in the day this week (the real world sucks), I’ll keep my explanation brief.
WHAT’S THE POINT OF SIRI?
This maybe the most difficult concept to convey to people. After all, “voice commands” have been available on phones for a while. Then again no one uses them because 1) it requires you to remember specific commands, and 2) it doesn’t always understand those commands when you do remember them. Siri is different. It’s contextual. In most cases you can say what you want in normal conversational speech and Siri understands. It also remembers: who your wife or brother is, the last person you were texting, or the context of the commands you’ve given, just to name a few.
30 years ago Apple (via Xerox) introduced the mouse and graphics based user interface. As common place as the mouse is today, the whole notion of a picture of a file folder on a screen to represent a folder of data was difficult for most computer users to grasp. “And use this little plastic box on a roller to point to it? Ridiculous!” It was a giant paradigm shift in computing, larger, even, than our recent transition to the Post-PC, mobile based computing age.
Siri, along with emerging gesture-based commands and eye movement based interface technologies, represent the next shift. The imminent future of computer control. It is important to remember that Siri is still a young technology. Apple makes sure to note it is still in BETA. For my non-technorati readers, that means it’s not complete and still in testing. In fact, Apple needs people to use Siri in order to collect as much data as possible. They’re using the data to improve Siri continually. Periodically, I ask something of Siri that I know it’s not capable of doing just so Apple will have more examples of how I want Siri to work.
That’s not to say it can’t do anything now. Siri can call whomever you ask it to, send a message to your wife, set up or move a meeting, give you directions, check the weather or stocks, and answer factual queries through WolframAlpha, along with a host of other functions. It’s particularly useful in hands free situations like the car. I regularly have entire text message conversations with friends while driving and never touch my phone once.
Reminders and lists are a dream with Siri. Set up a Grocery list in the Reminders app and you can just tell Siri to “add carrots to my grocery list” during that moment when you realize you don’t have what you need.
SIRI DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ME!
I don’t know if I can say it anymore succinctly than Apple’s Siri FAQ page:
The more you use Siri, the better it will understand you. It does this by learning about your accent and other characteristics of your voice. Siri uses voice recognition algorithms to categorize your voice into one of the dialects or accents it understands. As more people use Siri and it’s exposed to more variations of a language, its overall recognition of dialects and accents will continue to improve, and Siri will work even better.
This quote reveals quite a lot about the technology behind Siri. First, the more you use it personally, the better it understands you. Anecdotally speaking, it took a solid two weeks of using Siri frequently for it to really learn my voice. Three months later and it rarely misunderstands me. Rarely. I’m astonished how accurate it is at times. Yet, if my wife picks up my phone and tries to use Siri, it rarely ever understands her.
Second, the more people that use it, the better it will get at understanding commands. Siri stores all the nuances of different languages and will slowly get better at detecting about anything you can throw at it. But only if people continue to talk to it.
SIRI IS JUST A FAD AND ANOTHER WAY FOR THEM TO MAKE MONEY!
No no no no no. I’m not sure if people really understand how close we are to a truly Star Trek-like world. Not tractor beams and warp speed, but having our computer control many aspects of our daily life.
Want to dim the lights to watch a movie? In the future you may be able to tell Siri and never have to leave the couch. Thanks to some amazing new advances in Bluetooth technology and
Wifi enabled lightbulbs, this is a real possibility this year.
Want to find all the episodes of your favorite tv series? Siri might be able to do that for you later this year; and record your favorites just as easily. Start your car in the morning to warm it up? Just a sentence away while you’re brushing your hair. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Bold prediction for today: Apple will open Siri up to let developers start using it with their apps in the first half of the year.
So use Siri. Please. If you have an iPhone 4S and aren’t using Siri, you’re slowing down progress! Get with the program!
Don’t have an iPhone 4S? Maybe it’s time.