Why Siri is Strategic for Apple

by Tim Bajarin   |   October 17th, 2011

Now that I have had some time to work with the new iPhone, and especially the new Siri Voice technology, I have been able to form a couple of opinions about this products market impact.

As I mentioned in a previous post, from a big picture stand point, Apple’s use of voice and speech as a form of input marks the third time Apple has influenced the market when it comes to UI design and navigation. The first time they did it with the mouse and its integration into the Mac, and then with touch by making it the key input for the iPhone. Now comes voice, which I believe will usher in the era of voice input and will start to dramatically impact the future of man-machine interface.

While voice input is a significant part of Siri’s feature set within the new iPhone 4S, it is its AI and speech comprehension technology that really makes it unique. More importantly, the more I use it the more it gets to know who I am, where I live, what I like, who I am related to and the more info it gets on me, the better it gets as well. For example, with in a few searches for Italian restaurants it now knows that this is a type of ethnic cuisine I like and remembers that. So, the next time ask it to find me an Italian restaurant, it becomes more accurate in its recommendations. It now knows my home address and office address and I can give it commands that play off these locations. For example, I can say,“remind me to call my wife when I get to the office” and as I walk into the door of my office complex it reminds me to call her.

There are hundreds of ways that, once it begins to learn more about me, it can be quite useful and helpful. And as Apple has said, they will continue to link it to more powerful databases over time, giving it even greater reach to the information that I might need in my daily life. That linked with its continuing ability to learn about me makes Siri perhaps the stickiest application I have ever used. In the short time I have used it, it has become almost indispensable in a couple of areas.

First, I now mostly speak my tweets and messages instead of typing them in. Second, I use it to input short emails as well. Having the Siri microphone integrated into the keyboard makes it so simple to use and this is now my first line for data entry.

But the third way I use it is related to my business. As a market researcher, I have to do a lot of percentage comparisons when I look at various numbers. Over the years I have become pretty good at working out this math in my mind, but this method is not very precise. I normally come within one-to-three points of the correct answer and in a lot of cases that may be all I need for our predictions since these are based on known data and are informed projections. And in the past if I wanted precise percentages I would bring out the old calculator. But now when I want this number I just ask Siri and she does not guess. Her answers are always exact–and fast.

The other thing it does extremely well is deal with appointments. I just tell it to schedule an appointment and it is done. And if there is a conflict it tells me that as well. Think of it as a smart personal assistant.

BTW, this is not Apple’s first stab at this voice, speech AI concept. In fact, they pretty highlighted it in their Knowledge Navigator multimedia video they did in 1989. In this video it shows a professor interacting with a computer asking it questions and getting direct answers from it in ways that Siri does now. Ironically, this video and futuristic thinking was the brainchild of former CEO John Scully and former Apple Fellow Alan Kay, one of the most futuristic thinkers we have in the world today. But at the time, the technology was not there to do what was projected in the Knowledge Navigator. Even more impressive is the fact that while the Knowledge Navigator was apparently connected to a very large computer, Siri is being done in a pocket computer.

Now, as Siri develops a strong database about me and my likes and dislikes, it is quickly becoming indispensable as a mobile assistant. I suspect that the more Siri and I become closer and it gets to know me better, I am going to be highly unlikely to use something else by another platform. Thus, the stickiness. Something that makes it very likely that I will stay within the Apple ecosystem as long as they continue to innovate and make Siri smarter and even more useful.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Rich

    Tim, Microsoft has some capability in speech recognition. Do you think they’ll implement it in Windows Phone 7 and if yes, do you know if it will be competitive with Siri?

    • http://techpinions.com/about-tech-pinions/steve-wildstrom Steve Wildstrom

      Microsoft has a great deal of speech expertise, but they have never made much worthwhile use of it. There’s certainly nothing like Siri in the Mango version of WP7. Microsoft has mostly approached speech the way they have touch: As an alternative way of manipulating the existing user interface. This approach will never work outside the realm of adaptive technology (and is not ideal even there) and is precisely what Siri does not do.

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