Siri: Game-Changer, Not Gimmick

OCTOBER 10, 2011 AT 3:19 AM PT
By John Paczkowski

Siri, the voice-operated, natural-language-based personal assistant Apple has built into its forthcoming iPhone 4S, might seem, as Gizmodo's Mat Honan complained, "like the most amazing thing I'll never use."

But the application - which promises to reply to questions with answers, and to orders with actions - has the potential to be transformative, another of Apple's industry-changing innovations. Analysts say Siri's savvy mix of voice recognition, artificial intelligence and operating system integration may prove to be a far more potent combination than many expect. The software's ability to interpret meaning and execute actions brings a potentially revolutionary new feature to the iPhone and, soon, to other Apple hardware as well.

"Early reactions have missed the extent of Siri's capabilities, perhaps confusing it with mere speech recognition or simple keyword-based voice response systems," says Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross. "We believe the use of natural language and potentially the ability to distinguish between voices could one day change the way we interact with electronic devices and provide a substantial technology advantage to Apple. Quite simply, we have not seen a demonstration of comparable AI in any other consumer system."

Which means it will likely be difficult and time-consuming for rivals to match it. And if it works as flawlessly as it did during Apple's demonstration last week (onstage and off; Siri nailed every question and command I threw at it in the hands-on room after Tuesday's event) the company will have yet another tentpole point of differentiation from the competition.

And once Apple has it dialed in on the iPhone, it will almost certainly be extended to other hardware as well. Cross sees it headed to the iPad 3, the iPod, the Mac and, at some point, Apple TV or that mythical Apple television set.

"We think it would be very compelling to own a TV or a device that could quickly answer the request, 'I want to watch the Yankees/Red Sox game,' by changing the TV channel without requiring the user to look at a guide or use a remote control, or even specifying HD or standard definition feeds, since you would want the HD channel if available," says Cross. "Or, you could instruct the device to record all new episodes of a show, without leaving the program you are currently watching. Finally, since you are online, a Siri-enabled TV could answer whether your iPhone or computer has received a new message, and let you respond accordingly."


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