Instead of showing off a shiny, fresh piece of hardware during their arguably disappointing keynote in early September, Apple revealed a much-belated and long overdue upgrade to the then-16-month-old iPhone 4. Aside from detailing the improvements in the camera, a slight modification to the antenna and a dual-core processor, there was nothing terribly interesting to be heard in terms of hardware. So Apple focused more on software than hardware this time around.
The iOS 5 update was the highlight of their keynote, entailing over 200 new features and improvements. But the single feature that had us all interested and curious was Siri, the virtual pocket assistant. From the time the original application made its way to App Store to the keynote showing what exactly how Apple had integrated it with iOS, Siri has show tons of promise. In fact, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky believes Siri has the power to change the way we interact with both mobile devices and personal computers. He called it "another technology revolution" and a "new computing paradigm."
Not being particularly fond of voice input and talking to my phone as if it's my personal assistant, I had my doubts. But once this iOS-integrated version of Siri broke cover, people went nuts over it. Screen caps of some of the bizarre things Siri says began popping up all over the Web, followed by aggregating websites in normal meme-like fashion. And since Apple decided to make Siri an iPhone 4S-only feature (they had to make people want a 4S somehow), developers and hackers quickly dove into the code and ripped out Siri's innards. Siri has since been hacked to work on any iOS 5 device, with third-party iOS applications and possible even Android in the future.
There is no question that people love Siri and that it does have some usefulness. It has been in the headlines every week since its launch, and it works seamlessly and provides relatively quick answers to almost any question you can throw at it.
I must admit, I had my fun when I first got my hands on Siri. I probably asked it a hundred really stupid questions within my first half hour with my iPhone 4S. It really was fun for a while. And during my review period, I used it to look up local restaurants, reference Wolfram Alpha and to compute simple math problems, just for kicks.
That said, I'm (surprisingly) still carrying my iPhone 4S and since I finished the review, I can honestly say I can count the number of times I've used Siri on one hand. Most of those were accidental. In the Contacts app, I would navigate to a friend's contact card and forget to tap on their number to initiate the call. By putting the phone to my ear without dialing the contact first, Siri would automatically activate and I would just tell it (her?) to call the contact. Other than that, I can recall one time that I used Siri to suggest local Greek restaurants. And that's it; I haven't even used it for asking random life questions or where to hide a body. In a month and a half, I've only used Siri roughly five times.
In my experience, using voice commands is really no easier than manually performing actions on my phone. I can open Poynt and search local restaurants by name or location in virtually no more time than Siri can. Likewise, I can add alarms, address book, calendar and task entries just as fast as and in more detail than Siri can. Voice commands and input are just plain awkward for me, and during the review period, Siri seemed to misinterpret my speech at least one in five times. At least if I misspell or mistype something, it's on me, not software limitations or malfunctions. Correcting something that Siri guesses wrong is a chore in itself, a task that makes using voice commands almost counterintuitive since they're supposed to make things easier for you in the first place.
Siri and other voice input/command methods are awkward to say the least – almost as awkward as wearing and talking on a Bluetooth headset in public. Neither are something I see myself ever wanting to use regularly or seriously, especially outside the privacy of my own home. I would much rather manually launch apps and search things via a text query versus talking to my phone, only to have it tell me, "I'm sorry, Taylor. I cannot [insert petty task here] for you."
In short, there has been a lot of hype and excitement around Siri. But I feel as if it's just because iOS itself has grown fairly stagnant. The software is in need of a major refresher, a face lift and some sprucing up. As far as I'm concerned, my initial suspicions were correct: Siri is not a game-changer, but a nice little novelty feature to toy around with and show off. And yes, I'm aware some of you probably use it seriously, every day. But the point is, it's not going to revolutionize the way we interact with devices. Not yet, at least.
Now that the fun and new has worn off, do you find yourself using Siri in day to day use? How do you feel about Siri and other voice commands? Are they too awkward or inefficient for you? Is there something else you've found that works better than voice commands or manual actions?