Apple's iOS digital assistant, Siri, will be as big or bigger than the iPad. It's the beginning of actually useful natural language processing.
My wife feels like I've shacked up with another woman--I'm that in love with Siri. But my wife isn't too upset, because Apple's iOS personal digital assistant has given me more time to spend with my family. I've been able to get work done during times when I normally could not. And that's the part that tickles my CIO spider sense, which tells me: Feldman, this is going to change the way that IT delivers service.
I had upgraded to an iPhone 4S mainly because my 3G had run out of steam. I wasn't too excited by the prospect of Siri. Many of us have used Dragon Dictation and voice dialing. So what, right?
That's like saying AltaVista was all the Web ever needed with search. That's how big I think Siri is--Google search big.
Siri, unlike segmented voice recognition, integrates lots of services. In other words, instead of having to mess around with buttons to take a note with Dragon Dictate, and then copy it, then paste it into my notebook, I can just say: "Siri, write a note." Response: "OK, boss, what do you want it to say?" Then it pops it into my notebook. Done.
This is huge for me. I normally think up ideas at inconvenient times, while driving in the car or running on the trail. I have to stop, take my note, then get started again, a process that consumes my most precious commodity: time. Siri takes dictation while my hands and eyes are otherwise engaged. And because I don't have to stop to take a note, I'm more likely to take more notes. Indeed, Siri took a lot of this column while I was on the treadmill, which probably saved me an hour or two of desk time.
Siri has her warts, for sure. I apparently exceeded the app's time limit while dictating a part of this column, and Siri quietly discarded the entire note! I'm going to write her up for that one. It also exhibits the usual voice dial approximation problems, most hilariously, when she decided to call one of my old bosses on his cell phone when I asked her to call my office. (I was able to cancel the call via my headset.)
But compared with the technology up until now, which has been horrible, Siri makes mistakes I can live with, especially as the app adds value beyond just voice dialing and dictation.
One morning, when I was groggy and hadn't figured out if I was going to run outside or hit the treadmill, I asked: "Siri, when's the sun going to rise?" The response: "The sun rises at 7:35 a.m., boss." Holy cow. Siri may have had to Google that query, but I assure you she did it much faster than I ever could have. One evening, when my kids were doing their homework, they asked Siri to solve a calculus derivative of a quadratic equation (please don't tell our school district). Siri came right up with the answer, along with the graph.
I've been showing this app around work, and I see the wheels turning. Managers are thinking of ways they could eliminate some text entry and time-consuming lookups. One of my peers asked if Siri can read text messages. Doubtfully, I said I didn't know, but when I said "Siri, read me my last text message." everyone in the room was blown away when the app did.
We've all been in a situation when a time-sensitive text message has come in while we were driving. Maybe the exit is 10 minutes away. In some cases, that distance could mean the difference between a deal or no deal. In the world of Siri, it means you can respond by saying, "Siri, send a text message." Sure, you might have to repeat it once or twice, because the technology is still maturing. But Apple (this time through acquisition and integration) has changed the game once again.
Mark my words: Siri will be as big or bigger than the iPad. It's the beginning of actually useful natural language processing and associated automation.
Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @_jfeldman.