The Inside Story of Siri

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Today appears to be the day of lengthy editorials on various iOS topics. First, we spotlighted a lengthy article on TechCrunch about the history of jailbreaking. Next up, Huffington Post has published a detail piece about Siri. I recommend giving the full article a read, but you’ll need to pull up a chair and get comfortable; it’s going to take a while before you finish reading the entire text. Alternatively, we have published some of the more interesting excerpts from the article just ahead.

Siri Hasn’t Reached its Full Potential Yet

This Siri — the Siri of the past — offers a glimpse at what the Siri of the future may provide, and a blueprint for how a growing wave of artificially intelligent assistants will slot into our lives. The goal is a human-enhancing and potentially indispensable assistant that could supplement the limitations of our minds and free us from mundane and tedious tasks…

Siri’s backers know Apple’s version of the assistant has not yet lived up to its potential. “The Siri team saw the future, defined the future and built the first working version of the future,” says Gary Morgenthaler, a partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, one of the two first venture capital firms to invest in Siri. “So it’s disappointing to those of us that were part of the original team to see how slowly that’s progressed out of the acquired company into the marketplace.”

Siri Could Have Been an Android-Exclusive Feature

“The way that Steve described it, speech recognition — and how to use it to create a speech interface for something like the iPhone — was an area of interest to him and Scott Forstall [then head of Apple's mobile software] for some time,” recalls Kittlaus. “The story that I’m told is that he thought we’d cracked that paradigm with our simple, conversational interface…”

Verizon thought so, too. In the fall of 2009, several months before Apple approached Siri, Verizon had signed a deal with the startup to make Siri a default app on all Android phones set to launch in the new year. When Apple swooped in to buy Siri, it insisted on making the assistant exclusive to Apple devices, and nixed the Verizon deal.

Has Apple Hindered Siri?

Even as Apple amped up some features, it removed many of Siri’s powers by disconnecting the assistant from most of the outside services that had powered its digital brain. The restaurant reservation function, one of the key features of the original Siri app in 2010, would be denied to iPhone users until 2012…

Industry insiders say Apple’s size has hindered its ability to forge deals with the dozens of services that once synced with Siri. Whereas partnering with a startup in its embryonic stages was a simpler affair, brokering a deal with the world’s most influential tech company, a high-stakes undertaking by any measure, required many lawyers, meetings and spreadsheets of cost-benefit analyses.

Apple also seems keen to ensure Siri will be decent for many users, rather than genius for a few. Progress has been slowed by Apple’s need to localize the assistant in the nearly 100 countries that offer the iPhone. Sending Siri abroad requires training the assistant in dozens of different languages, a time-intensive affair given the technical challenges of teaching the algorithm to understand human speech.

People familiar with the early version of Siri gripe that Apple, usually so meticulous about its products’ look and feel, has hidden Siri’s capabilities with a design that over-promises on what Siri can deliver. To avoid disappointing its users, the original Siri app tried to teach people what they could ask by showing a screen of sample questions each time they queried the assistant.

Siri Competition

More than half a dozen Siri-like services launched in 2012 alone. Samsung debuted S-Voice, a voice-controlled assistant. Nuance, a provider of speech recognition software, released a “Siri for apps” called Nina. Startups Evi and Moluuba each released virtual assistant apps. IBM is working on adapting its supercomputer Watson into a turbo-charged Siri that can help physicians, farmers, Wall Street traders and high-schoolers. And Google has followed Siri with its own conversational assistant, Google Now.

Siri’s Future

A few years from now, as you walk through the mall, your virtual assistant will tell you where to shop for shoes by factoring in your wardrobe, time frame and cash flow. When you step into a store, you consult the options the assistant has lined up for you. The calfskin loafers are a must, it whispers, at the same time cautioning that the purchase would put you over your monthly budget. If you do splurge, it suggests you request a cash advance, and the assistant offers to contact your bank.

[Huffington Post]

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