Talking Siriously with the iPhone 4S
I’m having a relationship with another woman, but my partner doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she has a new man in her life.
No, we haven’t separated or embraced a swinging lifestyle. All we’ve done is upgraded to the new iPhone 4S.
There are several differences between our three-year-old iPhone 3Gs and the new iPhone 4S. The new phone is much slimmer, sleeker and swifter, of course. But the major difference is Siri.
Siri is the iPhone 4S’s built-in voice-activated personal assistant. And Siri is something you should pay attention to, even if you despise Apple, its products, its fans and Steve Jobs. It’s almost magical (in the Arthur C. Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” sense of the word). Hold the phone to your ear, even if it’s in lock mode, and when you hear the tiny double beep, just start speaking.
“Read me my last message.”
“Do I need an umbrella”?
“Play London Calling.”
"Remind me to call dad tomorrow."
and a friendly voice will reply:
“New message from Joe Smith: Sorry, I’m running late”
or “No, I don’t think it’s raining right now”
or “Here’s The Clash”, followed by the actual music playing through iTunes.
or "Setting reminder to call dad at 9 a.m. tomorrow."
For added clarity, Siri's words (and yours') are also displayed on the screen.
If you’re in America, Siri does even better. S/he can tell you the nearest Thai restaurant or directions to your friend’s house. Geographical information is not yet available in Canada, but even without it, Siri is still a marvel.
Siri can also look up information for you. Ask, “What is the second law of thermodynamics?” and Siri will connect with the WolframAlpha search engine and display the answer:
We’ve been having a lot of fun with Siri. My partner has selected the U.K. English voice, which is male, while I have the U.S. English voice -- female. I could have chosen Australian English (female), French (female) or German (male) as well, but my French and German proficiency isn’t that good and I find the Australian accent a little annoying.
Siri doesn’t always work. Background noise can confuse her, especially if you’re using a bluetooth headset. For example, a few nights ago while walking across the Burrard Bridge I decided to let my partner know I was on my way with the following results:
ME: “Siri, text Sharon I’m on my way.”
SIRI: “Okay, calling your parents.”
ME: “No! Abort! Stop! Cancel!”
SIRI: “Sorry, I don’t understand ‘about stoop council.”
(Meanwhile, a couple walking towards me on the bridge look startled as I shout, cling closer together and hurriedly edge by me.)
After apologizing to my mother for waking her up I vow never to try to use Siri again against a background of roaring cars.
The good thing is that Siri is getting better at recognizing my voice. She makes far fewer mistakes, and is proving very useful.
For one thing, it’s far easier to send text messages. Here’s the old way:
1. Turn on phone
2. Enter password to unlock phone
3. Tap Message app icon
4. Tap “new message” icon
5. Type number or name of person to message
6. Type (or try to) message
7. Correct typing mistakes
8. Tap “send” button.
Here’s the new way:
1. Turn on phone
2. Hold phone to ear
3. Say “Message to (name, if they’re in your book; number if not)", pause and then the text of the message
4. Move phone slightly away from ear
5. Listen as Siri confirms message
6. Say “send”
Far, far easier, less prone to mistakes -- and safer. How many times have you had to dodge pedestrians who are too busy texting to notice where they are going? How often have you done the same (I’m certainly guilty). The same goes for changing songs or podcasts in iTunes. Much easier to say “Play Wuthering Heights” to listen to your audiobook than to have to dig the phone out of your pocket, turn it on, navigate to iTunes, navigate to Books, find the file and press the play button. As an added bonus, you’re less likely to be hit by a car or bicycle because you’re not staring down at your iPhone screen, or to drop your phone onto the sidewalk).
You can dictate emails to Siri as well. Just specify the respondent’s name and whether to send it to a home, work or other email address (Siri will prompt you if the respondent has more than one address) and dictate the message.
Siri won't read out your emails (or voice messages), but will display them:
Siri can be used for non-serious talk as well. Ask Siri if she’ll marry you and she’ll reply, “Let’s just be friends, okay?” or “I’m sorry. That’s not covered in the EULA agreement.” There's even a website devoted to "funny Siri quotes" - check it out at www.sirifunny.com.
But why should you care about Siri if you don’t have an iPhone 4S? Simple: where Apple leads, others will soon follow. (Yes, I know, there are similar apps already for Google Android phones, but at present they are very primitive and frustrating). No doubt, Apple’s competitors are hard at work on their own versions of Siri. And rumour has it that Apple is preparing a version of Siri that will act as the remote control for the next iteration of Apple TV. Can the end of the frustratingly complex remote control be in sight?
Soon the days of people walking like zombies on the sidewalk, staring down at their phones may be a thing of the past. Instead, the air will be filled with the sounds of people talking to the personal assistants, shouting to be heard over the noise of the cars, the crows and all the others shouting at their versions of Siri. I guess that's better -- noisier, but safer.
And what will Apple come up with then in order to stand out? Good question. Maybe I’ll ask Siri.
ME: “Siri: What’s next for Siri?”
SIRI: “I’m not aware of any meetings about Siri, Terry.”
Hmm, I guess Siri's not as smart as I thought she was. Or, maybe she's just pretending...
A word of caution: if you don't have a generous data plan, you might want to be sparing in your use of Siri when you’re away from a wifi network. Apparently, every inquiry to Siri is processed through Apple’s servers with an average use of 63k bits of data per question -- more if the question necessitates an internet search, of course. Not much -- but it can add up. It also begs the question -- what is Apple doing with those questions? Using them to improve Siri, I hope, but there are privacy concerns.