The Future of Television: Kinect vs. Siri?

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An Apple TV set seems more likely than ever now that the late Steve Jobs is on record talking about it. And although details are non-existent, the inclusion of Siri would be a no-brainer if this mythical Apple television came into being.

The New York TimesNick Bilton suggests that Siri, the virtual assistant in Apple’s iPhone 4S, will be a big part of Apple’s television plans. It’s not clear whether Bilton is speculating or citing inside sources, but the idea does seem obvious when you think about it: instead of fumbling with a remote control, you’d use natural phrases like “play the latest episode of Parks and Recreation” or “I’m in the mood for comedy.”

(MORE: Siri: an Apple Sell the Concept of Natural Language Computing?)

Of course, Siri wouldn’t be the only method for controlling a television by voice. Microsoft’s Kinect, a motion-sensing camera for the Xbox 360, can also respond to some voice commands. In future versions of the Xbox software, Microsoft is planning to expand Kinect to let users search for shows and movies across many different sources.

But unlike Kinect—and unlike Android’s voice actions—Siri doesn’t require a rigid set of voice commands. It’s able to interpret natural phrases by picking out keywords and other cues. That goes a long way toward making voice commands accessible to average users.

Even if Apple has the technology, it still needs the content. Netflix, Hulu Plus and iTunes alone won’t satisfy the needs of most couch potatoes. To succeed, Apple will have to make deals with pay TV providers to bring the gamut of television shows and channels to Apple devices, or it’ll have to work directly with movie studios and television networks—a much more daunting task. In this area, Microsoft is already ahead, having struck deals with Comcast, Time Warner and other providers to bring streaming TV to the Xbox 360.

Microsoft and Apple won’t be the only companies vying for control of your television set, but their work with voice commands and other natural input methods puts both companies in a strong position to kill the remote as we know it. I can’t wait.

MORE: Siri Tricks and Tips: Do More with the iPhone 4S Virtual Assistant