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Siri screen capture

A screen cap from Siri

I’m interested to see if the new Siri voice command stuff on the iPhone 4S goes anywhere. I don’t think that it will, but it’s not because Android was there first or because I don’t think it works. It’s because I don’t think people will use it.

Yes, Android had voice commands first, but Siri is very different. It was created by a dedicated company based on military artificial intelligence research – not just a side project to take dictation. Siri was fully fleshed out before Apple bought it. Voice on Android works (if you speak slowly and clearly) but it isn’t “smart”. The breakthrough of Siri is that it works out what you want based on natural language and context, not keywords.

I don’t think people will use it for two reasons:

  1. It won’t work in every environment. Too much background noise, other people talking, television/radio on, etc. If you have to make a conscious effort to change your environment to use it, then you simply won’t. It’s not so convenient if you have to step out of a room or switch something off and you can accomplish the same thing with a few taps.
  2. People like their privacy. Artificial intelligence is compelling on television and in the movies because it is a trick to let the audience know what the characters are thinking. You are watching them problem solve.

In real life, people don’t want everyone else to know that they’re looking up restaurant reviews, creating an appointment to meet someone for dinner, or checking sports scores.

Voice interface and artificial intelligence are very powerful, but until you can subvocalize, I just don’t see it catching on.

This is the primary reason that I don’t think that computing in the living room on a TV work. People have an intimate relationship with their data and having the display across a room just feels too invasive. Sure, it works great to share Youtube videos with friends and do other consumption activities. But not research or creation.

Would you honestly feel comfortable writing an email across your living room where anybody could walk in and read it (or look in through a window).

Now how about on a train or in the office with everyone listening?

Edit: A counter argument from John Athayde on Google+

How about while you’re driving? How about if you’re in a private office?
I don’t think it will be ubiquitous, but I do think it will become more used, especially for certain circumstances.

My response

True. Baby steps. I just think for most people, if they don’t use a feature regularly, then they forget about it.
I’m very interested to see how it plays out and am envious that Apple bought it, when it was going to go multi-platform 😉

Edit: The screen capture is from a series by

4 Comments

  1. If someone on the train starts talking to their phone they’re going to get a lot of dirty looks.

    • True, but isn’t that already an issue? I heard somebody say (I think on the Sound on Sound podcast) that it may break out in a fight if person A thinks that person B is given them an order, not realizing that person B is dictating to a phone.

    • Orion
    • Posted October 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm
    • Permalink

    Your points seem valid but frankly I think you’re on the wrong side of this crystal ball, my friend.

    Mind you I haven’t interacted with Siri and unless someone gives me an iPhone 4S, I’m not likely to for at least another year but from the short video demo I think background noise won’t be as much an issue. Even if so there’s always the use of a wired or Bluetooth headset.

    Your second point flies in the face of reality. Only polite individuals refrain from having public conversations on their cell phones. Only difference between now and say 10 years ago is the lack of that extra annoying Motorola Push-to-Talk audible chirp. People are having loud cell phone conversations on metro, on line at grocery stores, fine and not so fine restaurants, even at the movie theatre so it’s not even a small leap to making use of a feature like Siri.

    Someday in the near future you can be sure to find yourself at a party, renfest, restaurant, wherever and find yourself surrounded by people in one form or another doing:
    {SEND TO TWITTER/FACEBOOK/FOURSQUARE/GOOGLE+}: I’m here having a fun with so and so.

    I can’t wait *shiver*

    • You may be right. I see a difference between having a conversation in public and interacting with a device, though. Somehow the device seems more private to me. We’ll see.