Siri: Can Apple Sell the Concept of Natural Language Computing?

  • Share
  • Read Later

One of the main iPhone 4S features touted by Apple during yesterday’s announcement was the phone’s built-in Siri feature. Siri is a virtual personal assistant with additional dictation features that lets you accomplish various tasks simply by speaking to your phone.

If it sounds like a familiar concept, it is. Similar apps have existed for a while on other platforms and, until yesterday, even Siri itself was an app in Apple’s App Store that worked on previous iPhone models. The iPhone 4S version of Siri, however, has deep access to much of the iPhone 4S’ core functionality and built-in apps, while the previously-available Siri app could only access a handful of third-party services.

(MORE: Apple Announces iPhone 4S: Old Design, New Specs, Siri Assistant)

While Siri’s ability to work with natural language is impressive—see the demo video above or click here to watch Apple’s keynote and skip ahead to the 71:30 mark—it’ll be really interesting to see how many people actually use the iPhone 4S’ voice command features regularly.

Being able to say, “What’s the weather like today?” and having the phone open the weather app is cool, but seems like a marginal time saver compared to opening the app yourself. But the slightly more complex actions like telling it to remind you to call your wife when you leave work—which will create a reminder for you and then leverage the phone’s location features to sense when you physically leave your office before reminding you—are what will get people most excited about it.

(MORE: Apple iOS 5, iCloud Both Launching October 12)

The most important factors that’ll ultimately determine Siri’s success are whether Apple’s able to truly make it an it-just-works experience—something Apple’s pretty good at, in case you hadn’t heard—and, perhaps more importantly, getting as many people using the feature as possible. While it’ll just be available on the iPhone 4S at first, don’t be surprised to see it creep into Apple’s other product lines like iPads, iPods and computers.

In fact, it appears that while Apple’s positioning Siri as an exclusive selling point for the iPhone 4S, there’s really nothing keeping it from working on other Apple devices right away. The iPad 2 and Mac computers have enough horsepower to run Siri, but I’ll be interested to see if Apple also opens up Siri for use on the original iPhone 4 and even the iPod Touch in the future. We may someday see that Siri becomes just an integrated feature of the iOS software running on all of Apple’s portable devices.

If and when that happens, it’ll then be a question of how ingrained the use of Siri becomes with Apple device owners. If you see people barking orders at their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks in public instead of tapping away at their screens and keyboards, you’ll know that the promise of natural language computing has taken another big leap forward.

MORE: Spec Spat: Apple iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 4