1. It understands what we say.Talk to Siri as you would to a person. Say something like “Tell my wife I’m running late.” “Remind me to call the vet.” “Any good burger joints around here?” Siri does what you say, finds the information you need, and then answers you. It’s like you’re having a conversation with your iPhone.
2. It knows what you mean.Siri not only understands what you say, it’s smart enough to know what you mean. So when you ask “Any good burger joints around here?” Siri will reply “I found a number of burger restaurants near you.” Then you can say “Hmm. How about tacos?” Siri remembers that you just asked about restaurants, so it will look for Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood. And Siri is proactive, so it will question you until it finds what you’re looking for.
3. It helps you do the things you do every day.You can Ask Siri to text your dad, remind you to call the dentist, or find directions, and it figures out which apps to use and who you’re talking about. It finds answers for you from the web through sources like Yelp and WolframAlpha. Using Location Services, it looks up where you live, where you work, and where you are. Then it gives you information and the best options based on your current location. From the details in your contacts, it knows your friends, family, boss, and coworkers. So you can tell Siri things like “Text Ryan I’m on my way” or “Remind me to make a dentist appointment when I get to work” or “Call a taxi” and it knows exactly what you mean and what to do.
4. It has so much to tell us.When there’s something you need to do, just ask Siri to help you do it. Siri uses almost all the built-in apps on iPhone 4S. It writes and sends email messages and texts. It searches the web for anything you need to know. It plays the songs you want to hear. It gives you directions and shows you around. It places calls, schedules meetings, helps you remember, and wakes you up. In fact, ask Siri what it can do — it even speaks for itself.
5. iPhone 4S takes dictation.Here’s another amazing way to get things done: just use your voice. Instead of typing, tap the microphone icon on the keyboard. Then say what you want to say and iPhone listens. Tap done, and iPhone converts your words into text. Use dictation to write messages, take notes, search the web, and more. Dictation also works with third-party apps, so you can update your Facebook status, tweet, or write and send Instagrams.
Take a close look at the Siri what exactly we can do with this.
- Ask for a reminder.
- Ask to send a text.
- Ask about the weather.
- Ask for information (from Yelp, Wolfram|Alpha, or Wikipedia).
- Ask to set a meeting.
- Ask to send an email.
- Ask for a number.
- Ask to set an alarm.
- Ask for directions.
- Ask about stocks.
- Ask to set the timer.
- Ask Siri about Siri.
Now if you consider the list closely, what you’ll notice is that it is not as open-ended as it first appears. Siri can’t understand just anything. It can do a certain set of key tasks. In a nutshell:
- Interact with the calendar.
- Search contacts.
- Read and write messages (text and email).
- Interact with the Maps app and location services.
- Forward search phrases to certain pre-defined data providers (Yahoo! Weather, Yahoo! Finance, Yelp, Wolfram|Alpha, or Wikipedia).
6. From the Programmers viewpoint
Looking at it from a programmer’s perspective, it seems to me that Siri consists of three layers: a speech-to-text analyzer, a grammar analyzer, and a set of service providers. If all three of these work well, then Siri will be fun and helpful. If one of them is as troubled as traditional intelligent agents have tended to be, then Siri will go the same way those other agents went—tumbling into the trash heap of misguided innovations.
A speech-to-text analyzer is a piece of software that takes audio and turns it into text. Simple as that. Except it’s not so simple—systems like Dragon have been refining this process for years. It’s really hard to get right, and I’ve never seen an analyzer that didn’t jumble a significant portion of what I say. (If you’ve got a Mac, you can experience the joy of being constantly misunderstood by a computer by playing with your “Speech Recognition” settings. Try a game of chess using nothing but speech. It’ll miss your move as often as not.)
Siri, however, has a much easier job than Dragon or your Mac’s Speech Recognition facility. And that, again, is because its job is limited and focused. It doesn’t have to understand just anything you might say. It only has to understand words and sentences that pertain to appointments, contacts, messages, and maps. This makes it easier for Siri to pick out what you’re saying, because there are only so many things that you’re allowed to talk about.
Another advantage is physical. A phone has a much better chance of hearing your voice up-close than a computer does. Phone microphone technology already incorporates a degree of noise cancellation. So your phone is more likely to be able to hear you clearly, even in the midst of noise, than your computer is.
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