Relax and let Siri look after you

Published: November 11, 2011
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Siri, aside from having a winning personality, has access to Apple’s gargantuan servers, which makes it supremely functional. PHOTO: APPLE.COM

“Hi Siri!”

“Hey honey! What can I help you with?”

OK, so this particular assistant isn’t quite as ‘personal’ as that, but admittedly, does sound a touch seductive, especially if you are into the whole android – pun intended – female from the future kind of thing. Siri is also smart, funny and very useful, and essentially, is like an aide for your pocket.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

What exactly is Siri, you ask? Well, Siri is voice-recognition based personal assistant application, integrated in the iOS5, and offered only on the iPhone 4S smartphone, which is manufactured by Apple Inc. And what exactly is Apple Inc. you ask?

“Siri, what isolation capsule is this reader reading the blog from?”

Alright, so Siri probably doesn’t have an answer for that question, and that’s not just because it is a highly irregular query. Fact is that Siri is still in beta mode, and doesn’t always get it right. George Mason University student, Amir Javeed, who has been using Siri on his new iPhone4S, puts the software’s accuracy down to ‘around 90% of the time.’

But Amir, who is  not Apple’s biggest fan, does feel the software has made a positive impact on his life:

“It’s definitely convenient in certain moments, especially when you are driving. Being able to text/call without fiddling with your phone is a plus.”

Like Amir, the vast majority of Siri users are finding the voice recognition app to be quite useful. This is primarily because Siri, aside from having a winning personality, has access to Apple’s gargantuan servers, which makes it supremely functional.

Originally, Siri started as an application available in Apple’s app store, and its developers had intended for the software to be ultimately available for BlackBerry and Android-powered devices as well, but any such developmental efforts ceased when Apple purchased the software, in what should go down in history as an otherwise business move from the tech giant.

How big of a game changer is Siri? Well, the various tech blogs are abuzz with how much of a ‘killer app’ it is, with some even going so far as to suggest that it could be a death blow to Google’s Android OS. Personally, while I do find such claims to be exaggerated, I must credit Apple with yet again initiating what eventually should be another popular change in how we interact with our smartphones.

When Apple first popularized the touch screen interface, I was initially quite sceptical, and couldn’t see the newer way of interacting with smartphone devices to be little more than a novelty. My cynicism was based on the fact that the applications on my phone were the exact same as before, and at best, touch screen interfaces were just improving the way I interacted with my device. But, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the value of improved interaction. Suddenly, I was using apps that were improving the quality of my life, which I wouldn’t have otherwise, simply because I was finding it far more convenient to access them.

And if Apple revolutionized the industry by popularizing touch screen interfaces, then with Siri, they may have done it again, by starting a revolution in voice recognition software. It won’t happen overnight, but as with any revolution, it starts with a single strong step. The reasoning is the same: Siri simply improves the way users interact with their iPhones. And with our increasingly busy lives so dependent on our smart phones, greater accessibility is always a boon, and is especially valuable when we aren’t able to give our device complete attention. Can barely keep your eyes open? Just ask Siri to wake you up in thirty minutes. Need to send a quick text message, drop a tweet, or simply need directions while driving? Again, Siri will prove to be the crutch you didn’t think you needed.

Ayesha, a customer service manager at Koons Tyson Toyota, gleefully admits the voice-recognition software is endearing to her:

“Siri, send a text message. Siri, make a call. Siri, remind me to change my contact lenses tomorrow. Siri, remind me that I have work on Oct 23. [Yes, the] new iPhone is spoiling me.”

All of this interaction is made more entertaining because of the sense of humor Siri carries. Macworld’s Jason Snell, during a demonstration of Siri on YouTube, had some amusing exchanges with the device. When he asked Siri to set a timer for three minutes, she quipped back:

“Okay, I started a three-minute timer. Don’t overcook that egg!”

In fact, there is a whole website dedicated to the amusing responses Siri users have come across. Fittingly, a lot of these have been clearly influenced by sci-fi geek culture, including films like Terminator, Star Trek, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Click here to have a look at some of the more amusing interactions with Siri.

But, experts feel that Siri’s impact could easily go beyond everyday use.  John S. Wilson, of GigaOM Pro, feels the application could revolutionize the emergency call system:

“As someone who analyzes health policy (with a focus on long-term services and supports), I believe that Siri, Apple’s recently introduced natural language voice technology, has the potential to change not just our 911 system, but also to be one of the biggest consumer-facing technologies in health care that we’ve seen in decades.”

Siri’s force is already being feared by Google chairman Eric Schmidt. According to popular gadget website, Tech News World, at a US senate antitrust hearing, Schmidt said:

“Apple’s voice-activated search technology could prove to be a significant development in search technology and could become tough competition to traditional Google searches.”

Strong words indeed, especially from the chairman of the most easily popular search engine in the world. And with Siri now completely in Apple’s control, Google’s only solution is to develop a competing piece of software for their own Android OS.

The problem is that voice recognition software has been the next big thing for past twenty years, and only now, in the shape of Siri, is available an excellent product. And with its AI and software being so good already despite being in ‘beta’ state, and its API yet to open to third party developers, by the time Google gets something remotely usable ready, with all the data Siri is collecting, Apple could be light-years ahead.

I’ll say one thing; as someone who has always been ferociously outside of the Apple camp, Siri may very well be the reason that I invest in the next iPhone, rather than an Android powered device. While the price of the next iPhone may be quite high, it will probably be a bargain for anyone looking to simply gain the world’s best personal assistant.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.