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Elgan: Getting serious about Siri

Mike Elgan | Oct. 24, 2011
Apple's new Siri virtual assistant feature in the iPhone 4s is already causing controversy and dividing the gadget-loving universe.

However, I don't have or wear my glasses while driving, working out at the gym, running, walking around town or shopping, cooking or cleaning up or while in bed.

Siri enables me to play music and podcasts, send and receive emails and texts, give myself reminders, make appointments, get directions and all the rest without needing glasses or even taking the phone out of my pocket.

I don't understand how anyone can fail to understand how great this is.

Why Apple is taking Siri so seriously

Rubin's recent comment, essentially showing a personal bias against Siri-like technology (even though Google engineers are working hard to out-do Siri with their own technology), reveals a breathtaking absence of vision about the future of computing. And it's one that I'm sure many others at Google do not share.

As I've said many times in this space, the future of all computing is iPad-like touch tablets. Within a few years, you'll trade in your old-and-busted WIMP PC (WIMP stands for windows, icons, menus and pointing devices), and embrace something similar to a giant iPad, set at a drafting table angle on your desk.

If this sounds unappealing to you because you don't like on-screen keyboards, you should also know that you'll barely do any typing at all with this PC of the future. Most of the input will be via voice, using a virtual assistant like Siri. What little typing you do will be greatly facilitated by tomorrow's intelligent software that will figure out what you're intending to type and offer to type it for you -- think auto-correct on steroids.

The PC in the future, in other words, uses Siri-like assistant technology as a primary and necessary user interface.

Apple understands this. Google's Andy Rubin, apparently, may not.

As I've written before, Apple is really good at training users to embrace new ways of doing things. For example, they forced millions to embrace virtual keyboards by banning any company from making a physical keyboard for the original iPhone.

And now they're doing the same thing with Siri.

We've all been trained by the WIMP paradigm to think in terms of applications. And those instincts lead us at first to use Siri to first open apps. But if you say, "Siri, open Messages," Siri will deny the request. (Instead, you say: "Tell Steve I'll be late.")

It would have been easy for Apple to allow Siri to also open apps. But Apple wants to train us all how to use computers the new way via virtual assistants, rather than the old way.

OK, I promised some Pro Tips for making Siri more powerful. Here they are.


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