Much has been written about Siri in the last one month. And a lot more, will. For those who want to learn about how Siri does what it does so well, this link should help. It does a number of things quite well today: its natural language processing capabilities, and its ability to interface with more and more third party apps – contacts, messaging, calendar, maps to name a growing few. And a Siri powered iTV experience just might be around the corner. That being said, what interests me is not what Siri the virtual assistant can do for me, or the million or so proud owners of an iPhone4S. What does interest me is what Siri could end up being, for the millions of others around them who may or may not even own an iPhone. When Apple finally made its classic iPod Windows compatible, it offered tens of millions of Windows users a peek in to the world of Mac, which helped win them over eventually and jumpstart the transition of Apple in to one of the most innovative and profitable corporations ever to exist. A similar coup may be planned with Siri.
When iPhone launched, it’s Visual Voicemail feature was Apple’s first step to simplifying Carrier implemented voicemail that it saw as being broken, by offering a random access voicemail feature with a visual interface. Siri will take it further and then some. To all those who say its unnatural to be asking questions at your own phone, wait till you see how natural the next stage in Siri’s evolution will seem.
Siri – My Personal Concierge
As the SmartPlanet article explains in much detail, Siri functions by utilizing a local recognizer module running on the iPhone4S and a massive server farm which runs various language modules on the cloud. As recent hacks show, there really is no reason for Siri to not work on earlier iterations of iPhone, as Apple’s servers in the cloud along with the recognizer module that runs locally on the phone jointly decide who and how to break down the question, understand the intent and respond. Infact, Siri could run completely on the cloud. For now, lets talk of a tantalizing possibility – that a Cloud based Siri could be a concierge not just to be at my beck and call, but to others in my personal and professional life, armed with the knowledge of my social relationships, and my schedule. Imagine what a Siri powered interactive voice mail feature on Apple’s iPhones will do.
Today, Siri talks to me. Tomorrow, she will talk to people (whom I allow) when I am unavailable. With access to my social graph, contacts, calendar and location, Siri will allow others fettered access to my calendar and my location (these two to begin with). Imagine calling someone with an iPhone who is in a meeting and have Siri pick up the call:
Siri: Hi! Alex is unavailable. How can I help you?
Nathan: Hey, its me Nathan. I was wondering if Alex would be free today for Lunch?
Siri: Sure. Let me check.
. He is available. Would you like me to schedule it?
Nathan: Yes Please. 12:00 PM at Capital Ale will be great. Please remind him.
Siri: Sure. I have set up a reminder. Is that all?
Nathan: Yes. Goodbye
Siri: Hi! Alex is at a meeting with David. How can I help you Sara?
Sara: Can you please remind Alex to pick up Dinner from Wholefoods on the way home?
Siri: Sure. I have setup a reminder. Is that all?
Sara: Yes. Goodbye.
And..possibly in the near future..
Siri: Hi! Alex is on the flight home from Atlanta. How can I help you Josh?
Josh: Could you tell me when Dad will be home from the airport?
Siri: Sure. His flight in to Richmond gets in at 6:30 PM. Since he is stopping at Wholefoods, I would say 7:30.
Josh: Thank you Siri.
In each of the above hypothetical scenarios, Siri is well aware of the caller and their relationship to the callee, and the level of access the caller has to the callee’s calendar, location etc. Based on that, Siri offers additional information as per its relevance to the caller and the context of the call. Today Siri does not differentiate between its owner and a stranger who asks a question. Tomorrow, when Nathan calls Alex, Siri will know the nature and extent of their relationship, and what items on Alex’s calendar that Nathan is privy to, and what he is allowed to access.
Siri & iOS vs Everything Else
To take it another step forward, what if Siri could be truly agnostic and could use two or more Calendars and Contacts synced across iCloud, to set up meetings between Nathan, David and Alex once it has had an opportunity to verify their availability? I constantly have a backlog of voicemails that Siri could help in providing a tidy summary. Imagine what a differentiator Siri 2.0 would be, for customers who seek a smartphone that will save them time, and sports a design that reflects the emotive simplicity that Apple is known for.
In emerging markets like India, the notion of voicemail as we are accustomed to in US, does not exist. They could simply skip over traditional voicemail, supplanted by an interactive one powered by Siri 2.0. In US or elsewhere, Apple could certainly use its considerable clout with Carriers to effect this change.
I believe Siri will soon be set free from its iPhone4S moorings. What if all it took was an iCloud subscription and maybe an iOS device? And Siri, once its baked in to iOS, will be unrecognizable from the rest of the OS. It will become both pervasive and omniscient. Apple has a technology that could put considerable distance between it and its competitors in Siri. Apple can couple Siri and iCloud to create a unique customer value proposition – that it can not only simplify the lives of people who use Apple products, but even those around them. That is hard to beat.
Disclaimer: I can only surmise as to what Apple plans to do with Siri. These are really my thoughts, my take on what it can be..infact – what it should be. Even though innovative minds at Apple and elsewhere could be working on what I laid out below and more, since you read about it here first, you should tell Apple to do the right thing. Or just have Siri call my people.