Gone are the days of having to stomach Michael Fish’s face at the breakfast table. Siri, the iPhone 4S personal assistant, will tell you when you need a jacket, based on where you are and whether it’s expected to be cold. Simply ask it, “Will I need a coat today?” and Apple's virtual assistant will tell you – in a chatty (if slightly robotic) way – that it’s fairly likely as you live in London. Oh, and it’ll bring up a visual display of the weather.
The big issue with Siri will be whether people will feel comfortable talking at their iPhones in public. It’ll be embarrassing – but then, so was using a mobile when they were rare and made you look like a poser. So perhaps – just like that – talking at your phone will become the norm.
The future may see engrossed individuals bumping into each other as we interact with the whole world through our phones, not noticing our immediate surroundings. Siri will pull us deeply into the already sprawling virtual world.
Every other manufacturer is scrambling to beat Apple and while lots of people say the incremental improvements of the iPhone 4S put Apple behind its larger-screened rivals, they may be missing something. The main annoyance using a mobile (which almost makes tablets necessary) is the dinky keyboard – which is a big reason for a larger screen. But with voice recognition there’s no longer a need to use those fleshy pokey-sticks you call fingers, at all.
Once Apple works out how to fit a screen into a contact lens, phones can start fighting to be the smallest once again. For now the fight started by Siri is in the App Store – and it’s going to be a massacre.
With voice recognition built into the iPhone 4S, apps are going to die. Vlingo, a virtual assistant map, is now free on the App Store as it fights to be nessecary; Nuance Dragon may not last either. However, Nuance has worked with Siri in the past and won’t disclose its current dealings.
Although at first glance it looks bad for these guys, they’re excited – Apple endorsing voice controls means it’s going mainstream and they can start making more money, even if it’s not in apps.
Siri isn’t all bad news for apps – with the updated SDK allowing developers to work voice controls into their offerings, we could soon be hurling angry feathered folk with a war cry. And as intelligent voice control spreads far and wide, offices might once more come alive with the chatter of a Sunday morning market as everyone chatters away at their computers.
We'll still need keyboards for one thing, though – to smash in a rage when voice recognition keeps going wrong.