iPhone 4S and Siri is more game changing than we realize

Voice control. Pretty great phone feature, right? Any Android user would know and be happy to tell you that it’s quite useful. In fact, Android’s extensive voice capabilities has been the one killer feature that had me considering an Android over my much loved iPhone for years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly been in an accident trying to look up directions on my iPhone while driving. Being able to say “Navigate to [place]” is not just handy, but important for safety. So when I heard about Apple buying Siri back in 2010, I knew they were about to catch up. They had to. But, the extent of why how significant this could be didn’t occur to me until Apple announced iPhone 4S with Siri integration. It hit me as they began to demonstrate it.

Many Apple fans were disappointed by the announcement of the iPhone 4S, anticipating an iPhone 5 with a rumored brand new design, larger screen, and thinner body. Instead, fans were let down by an unchanged appearance from the iPhone 4. So let down, in fact, that I believe they simply overlooked many of the great additions to the device – an A5 processor making the device nearly 3X faster, a better camera with 1080p video recording, better battery life and of course, the incredible integration of Siri. I think many of us haven’t realized the impact Siri’s integration may have on our lives and the future of mobile phone interaction.

Why is it such a big deal? Voice control has been around since before smart phones. Many Android fans will tell you that Apple is simply catching up, and that Android’s voice integration is more robust than Apple’s Siri integration. Though these arguments are mostly true, Apple and Siri has changed the game with one very important word.

Context.

Never before were we able to interact with our mobile devices by speaking to them like a human. This is a breakthrough on many levels, akin to the beloved Watson machine, created by IBM to beat the best human players of Jeopardy (and succeeded in doing so) by understanding the context of questions asked to it and providing an accurate answer. Siri may not have the capabilities of Watson, but this is a huge leap forward. The possibilities are astounding. Just looking at some of the many Siri voice examples, you can begin to grasp just how much this will affect and improve our daily lives.

Wake me up tomorrow at 7am
Mail Lisa and Jason about the party and say I had a great time
Any new email from Michael today?
Remind me to call my mom when I get home
How windy is it out there?
What is an 18% tip on $86.74 for four people?

What’s really mind blowing is how abstract these commands are. You just simply talk to it. It’s hard to wrap your mind around that. We are all so used to giving specific keyword-based voice commands that it will be hard for us to even comprehend how we can utilize something like this. But the beauty is that we don’t have to think about it. We just talk, like any person would talk to their secretary. And it follows the conversation. In Apple’s own demonstration video, you may ask for Siri to read you a message. Then you might say something like “Do I have any meetings tomorrow?”, wait for the response, then say “reply with Sure, let’s move the meeting”. Siri will remember the message and reply to it. To go beyond that, you can even teach it references so it knows who you’re referring to when you say “wife”, “brother” or “work”.

The possibilities are incredible. Imagine how much time it will save you to avoid tedious tasks like setting up reminders, alarms, managing your calendar, making notes, or sending simple emails and text messages. I imagine some secretaries may have just lost their jobs. On the bright side, all iPhone 4S owners have just hired one.

This is no longer voice control. This is an artificial assistant. The game is about to be changed in a big way. The user will no longer have to worry about referencing a manual to issue voice commands. The user speaks, not in a specific structured format, just as they would to another person and the software will decipher the sentence and perform the task.

The most amazing thing of all? This is only the beginning. Siri has been stamped with “beta” status, meaning that there is much more to come. If Apple has just set a new bar and a new standard for the industry, as Apple tends to do, I can’t even begin to comprehend what new ways we’ll be able to interact with our devices and how it will change our lives. Yes, we’re all sad that we won’t have a shiney new iPhone 5 to hold in 2011, but let’s get past it and appreciate that we get to experience the dawn of the future.

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