Siri Will Be Huge, If It Can Scale

The thing that sold my wife on the iPhone 4S was Siri, and she spent the evening after we finally got one seeing what Siri could do.

Since then, a mere two days, Siri’s had several outages. Going through the coverage, it seems Siri is a beta service, which was suprising to read, given how much Apple is pushing the new assistant in its latest commercials.

I guess the ads are working, since Siri is reported to be driving the huge demand for the otherwise meh iPhone 4S.

I can’t imagine that the outages have made a favorable impression on those people jonesing to use Siri. If they’re anything like my wife, they’re pretty disappointed.

When it was working a few days ago, I was impressed with what Siri could do. Siri can answer natural language questions, making it supposedly smarter and better than other voice systems that predate it.

It’s funny though. I defy you to talk to Siri like you would a person; even if you start out trying, you lapse back into robot speak pretty quickly. We’ve been programmed I guess, mostly by automated telephone voice systems.

Voice systems obviously aren’t new, and the big technology players already have investments e.g. Android’s voice features, Google Voice’s transcription service, Microsoft’s Tellme, etc.

One thing that’s different about Siri is marketing, at least for now, i.e. Apple is pitching Siri as an assistant that can summon information and do tasks for you. Siri creates a completely new way to interact with your phone, a new interface, just like the original iPhone showed a new way to interact with your device, by touch.

To be clear, by new, I mean new to most, not new as first.

Of course, high demand has exposed a big problem, i.e. it’s overwhelming the server side, as evidenced by the outages. Siri can’t do much of anything without an internet connection; check out the first part of this post for details about how Siri works.

In theory, Siri should get better as more people use it, since it’s constantly learning. This piece in Forbes makes some good points, although it does neglect to mention Siri only speaks a limited number of languages as Gary points out on G+.

Forbes does mention emotion though, which I also noticed immediately. Unlike its contemporaries, Siri has a personality that delights users. I saw it first-hand. Apple has made its living delighting users, and Siri does that well. At least, when it’s able to connect to the internet.

So, what do you think about Siri? Find the comments.




  1. Hosed in Scotland for starters: 

    As for the Japanese version, well….

    Agree with you about the hype, sorry advertising – Siri was available as an app before this iPhone version and there wasn’t much hooha about it. This kinda voice-based assistance has been around for years (as anyone from HCI class in college reading Molich and Nielsen’s CHI paper from 1990 would tell you), and we’ve had voice-activated mobile search from Google for a while. Perhaps that’s where this is really heading – steering Apple into the search market.

    I doubt it will really worry Google much somehow.

    The international aspects of it are interesting. As we saw with Google Translate Conversation Mode, Google are out there on that stuff too. 

  2. Hosed in Scotland? Is that the new Danny Boyle movie 🙂

    I’m sure the accents will be ironed out, beta and all, and as for the Japanese boo-boo, well, I submit iPad as evidence.

    The big jump from Siri before Apple is the horsepower (marketing and data center) behind it. I did mention Google’s voice capabilities, but they are limited to transcription, not assistance. So, yeah, Google is correctly worried about its search business.

    The big deals here are interface and learning. Voice has always been a wasteland as an interface control, and now Siri is making some real progress. Plus, Siri learns, which at the scale of millions of US iPhone owners, is a big deal.

    Apple is writing the book on how voice should work w a device and setting expectations among users.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *