Apple may have just hit its stride.
Today’s iPhone 4s announcement was really filled with a few unanswered questions about how the new device really operates, as well as leaving many of the iPhone 5 rumors completely overshot. The one thing that really dominated Apple’s keynote address was the announcement of the iPhone Siri, a personal assistant tool that uses voice commands to initiate the device’s functions. This was shown in detail in the presentation, almost dominating all details of the new handset.
In simple terms, the iPhone’s personal assistant Siri really just integrates voice commands as a regular way to deal with the device. In the long term, it really has the potential to alter the very basic ways we work with the device. The main reason for this is that it is not based on awkward voice commands, but instead is designed to interpret what you say in normal language. You are not asked to try to alter your speech commands to be understood by an automated system, which is part of why voice command modules have never really take off. Instead, the commands are intended to be extracted from everyday speech so that you can casually initiate them with the same kind of interaction you would have when sliding through the menus. For example, you can casually ask where to find a location and have it brought up on maps. So can set reminders just by saying things like “I need to call Sarah when I leave school.”
What ends up being amazing to most users is the very basic functions we all use put into a speaking context. Text messages can easily be read aloud to you if you do not want to look at them, which is a feature that goes beyond simply adding accessibility for users that are hearing impaired. The design of this is going to more fully integrate Bluetooth technology into the phone, allowing you to utilize all of the basic functions without even looking directly at the device. This will go a long way for connections through car computers, especially with new regional laws regarding text message and phone use. The iPhone personal assistant Siri will not exist in a bubble and will be integrated with almost all of the iPhone 4s’s features, both old and new. This could also feed the ingenuity for developers who are looking for new ways to make their apps useful and necessary to the iPhone public, especially when they have such a growing App Store library to compete with.
What makes the natural language commands successful is that the iPhone 4s Siri is really able to contemplate your requests, though it isn’t going to be self-aware anytime soon. You can ask general questions about pop culture and history, only to have it look them up on Wikipedia. If the question is not easily answered from Siri’s interpretation then it may actually tell you that, creating an actual personal assistant. It can guide you through your own schedule and such, and even if you ask it to tie in a command that has not already been made you can ask it to simply initiate it instantly. If you need a reminder after an event and that event has not yet been placed in your Calendar, Siri will ask if you want to add it. It’s just that simple. This may end up having the reverse effect for some users who will become so reliant on it that their own smartphone agency could be robbed, but that issue has been present since the beginning of all automated services.
Siri is not a natural release for the iPhone 4s and will still be in beta testing after its October 14th release date, and it will only be available for those speaking English, French, and German. This may give Apple a little time to be able to tweak any problems that arise, and you can expect there to be a number of them with a technology this new.
The iPhone’s personal assistant feature is a major breakthrough for the smartphone world, but it may not have been the breakthrough people were looking for. With this new model of the iPhone, the rumor mill had been conjuring up technology’s that would rival the corporations of a Manga utopia of the imaginary future. Card reader slots, credit card recognition, RFID, and 4G network speeds were all expected on some level, and this development was not even in the same breath. Siri, with all of its capabilities and uses, may simply not be on the radar of many users and not get the kind of use that other possible additions would have. In this way it could end up being the empty Trojan horse that shines in the spotlight yet lies dormant when it comes down to day-to-day use.