Siri should never have been an exclusive feature to the iPhone 4S

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: October 30, 2011

At Apple's keynote from 1 Infinity Loop at the beginning of this month, there were several things they highlighted, like the new camera with an improved lens, their updated "intelligent switching" antenna design, the A5 processor making its way to handhelds, and a slew of new iOS features that they decided to recap from the WWDC keynote in June. But above all, Apple promoted a new feature of the iPhone 4S that is supposed to give it a leg-up over its competition: Siri.

Since the iPhone 4S launch, Siri has mostly remained in good light. Some accepted the technology for what it is, while others have blown it out of proportion. Jennifer Van Grove of Mashable reported just two days ago that Gary Morgenthaler, a recognized expert in artificial intelligence, partner at Morgenthaler Ventures and Siri board member and investor, believes that Siri alone will be what gives Apple's iOS a two-year advantage over Android for the best smartphone platform.

Needless to say, I disagree. Entirely. And I completely disagree with Apple's means of (re)launching Siri, too.

Two days prior to the iPhone 4S launch, iOS 5 was pushed out for all supported iOS devices via iTunes 10.5. The major update touted over 200 new features like Newsstand, iMessage, faster camera software and lockscreen shortcuts, Notification Center and a slew of other performance and interface improvements across the board. But one feature was missing from all of these iOS devices.

Apple decided to make their acquired voice assistant software, Siri, an iPhone 4S exclusive feature. That's right. What was once an openly available application in App Store was jerked from the virtual shelves (the servers were killed off to ensure there were no straggling users) and made available only to faithful customers who forked out a few hundred dollars for their evolutionary iPhone 4S. (If I sound a bit bitter, it's because I am. And it's not because I don't have Siri. I have an iPhone 4S, and Siri is good at what it does. It's because Apple can do this time and time again and hardly anyone gets the least bit frustrated with them.)

Their reasons for doing so are pretty clear. With the only hardware updates coming in the form of an A5 processor (which is arguably over the top for day to day use), a much-improved camera and an update to antenna design and function, the bread and butter of this upgrade was software. It would have been pretty hard to sell current iPhone 4 owners on a new, slightly improved phone with no exclusive features. The majority would have kept their current phone and held out for the iPhone 5. But hey, why not convince users to upgrade now? I'm sure that if they improve hardware and potentially change the design of the iPhone 5, those very same customers will probably upgrade again in another seven months or so – at full retail, of course.

Naturally, the prying minds of hackers and developers managed to rip the Siri files from a jailbroken iPhone 4S and get them up and running on the iPhone 4 with minimal effort. But the developers responsible, Steven Troughton-Smith and Chpwn, have no plans of distributing the hack. Throughton-Smith, however, did promise to share the details of the process one the iPhone 4S jailbreak goes public ... whenever that may be. The important part here is how smoothly and flawlessly the iPhone 4 runs Siri. It's not that we ever thought the iPhone 4 wasn't capable (it was an openly available app before, after all), but the visible evidence of it actually running only makes it more upsetting that Apple has locked it down to only being officially supported on the 4S.

My point is, Siri is not an iOS feature. It's an iPhone 4S feature and it has only been deployed to a limited amount of users. For one, it's only going to be as successful as Apple makes it. If they want Siri to be a differentiating factor, it needs to be open to all iOS devices: iPods, iPhones and iPads. With Apple playing this scheduled obsolescence game so strongly with its loyal customers and holding out key features that should be available to everyone might (highly doubtful, though) force users to look elsewhere come upgrade time. Ice Cream Sandwich is looking mighty tasty, might I add.

Are you upset that Apple has limited Siri to the iPhone 4S? Do you even care? Will this make a different in your next phone purchase? Sound off and share your grievances in the comments below!

Products mentioned