Five Things Siri Still Needs

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Depending on how you look at it, Siri is either really helpful or limited in its usefulness.

A new survey by Parks Associates found that 87 percent of respondents who own an iPhone 4S use at least one feature of Apple’s virtual assistant software on a monthly basis. Still, those users mainly stick to initiating phone calls or dictating text messages with Siri.

Other services are less popular. Roughly one third of respondents said they’d never asked Siri to play music or schedule a meeting, and 30 percent said they hadn’t used Siri for e-mail. Of the 482 iPhone 4S owners surveyed, 55 percent were satisfied with Siri, 8 percent were unsatisfied, and the rest were somewhere in between.

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Surveys aside, I think Siri has great potential. Its ability to interpret meaning from natural language puts it a cut above the voice commands of Android and Windows Phone, hinting at a future where we talk to computers as we would to other people.

But to get there, Siri must evolve. Here’s where Siri needs the most immediate improvement:

Third-Party App Support

Siri currently draws on a handful of third-party services for information, including Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and Yelp, but it’s not yet open to all other apps. Imagine, for example, loading up music in Pandora or getting sports scores from ESPN ScoreCenter. Smartphone apps allow people to tailor the device to their individual needs, and I’ll be surprised if Siri doesn’t eventually hook into that.

Voice-Guided Navigation

Siri’s voice commands may be easier to use than other phones, but for the time being I still prefer Android’s voice services for one simple reason: When you ask an Android phone for directions, it navigates. Granted, the iPhone’s lack of turn-by-turn voice navigation is a long-standing gripe, but it’s even more glaring now. Siri’s like the clueless front-seat passenger who’s holding the map but failing to give directions.

More Basic Functions

As Gizmodo’s Mat Honan has pointed out, Siri still can’t perform some basic actions. It can’t toggle phone settings such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it can’t tell you how much storage space or battery life are left on the phone, and it can’t launch any apps. The more basic functions Siri gets, the less of a guessing game it becomes to use the virtual assistant.

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More Reliable Service

Apple slapped a “beta” tag on Siri when launching the iPhone 4S last October, for good reason: Network access is required to access Siri, and sometimes the service can’t keep up with demand. A big outage in November drew attention to Siri’s flakiness, and users continue to complain on occasion. There’s no point in using Siri if you can’t be confident that it’ll work.

Social Acceptance

No matter how good Siri gets, usage won’t skyrocket until people feel comfortable conversing with their phones. I’m a geeky guy, and even I get a bit shy about dictating voice commands to my smartphone in public. Of course, this issue is out of Apple’s control, but like everything listed above, it’s bound to improve with time.

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