I believe Apple’s Siri defines what Steve Jobs was all about and why he’s such a great lost to Apple. I’ve said before that Steve’s greatest attribute was his ability to see into the future and provide consumers with products and services they didn’t even know they want.
One of my favoruite part of Steve Jobs’ Biography was how excited he became during his Xerox Parc company and saw the Graphical User Interface for the first time. According to the report, Steve was hopping around with unbridled excitement. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Steve Jobs’ said he immediately knew that the new GUI was the future.
Its evident Jobs felt the same way about Siri. He knew intuitively that Siri was the future and a new input paradigm.
In an interview with Networkworld Dag Kittlaus had this to say on his first encounter with Steve Jobs:
[quote] Three weeks after we launched I got a call in the office from someone at Apple that said, “Scott Forstall wants to talk to you and he’s the head software guy.”
And I said sure…
Only it wasn’t Scott that called it was Steve. And Steve never announces where he’s gonna be and what he’s gonna do because there’s too much commotion around it. So he said, “Dag, this is Steve Jobs.”
And he wanted me to come over to his house the next day, and I did, and I spent 3 hours with him in front of his fireplace having this surreal conversation about the future.
And, you know, he talked about why Apple was going to win, and we talked about how Siri was doing. And he was very excited about the fact that.. you know, he was very interested in this area in general but, you know, they’re patient, they don’t jump on anything until they feel they can go after something new and he felt that we cracked it. So that was his attraction.
I ended up very lucky, timing wise. I got to work with him for a year before he got real sick. And he’s pretty incredible. The stories are true. All of the stories.[/quote]
So what did Kittlaus and his team cracked that got Steve so excited? In my opinion its Siri ability to understand context.
Here is an excerpt from patent application 20120016678 , which was originally filed in Q2 2010 by Siri’s inventors Thomas Gruber, Adam Cheyer, Dag Kittlaus, Didier Guzzoni, Christopher Brigham, Richard Giuli, Marcello Bastea-Forte and Harry Saddler:
[quote] In addition, in various embodiments, context information derived from user interaction with a feature, operation, or application on a device can be used to streamline the operation of other features, operations, or applications on the device or on other devices. For example, the intelligent automated assistant can use the context of a phone call (such as the person called) to streamline the initiation of a text message (for example to determine that the text message should be sent to the same person, without the user having to explicitly specify the recipient of the text message). The intelligent automated assistant of the present invention can thereby interpret instructions such as “send him a text message”, wherein the “him” is interpreted according to context information derived from a current phone call, and/or from any feature, operation, or application on the device. In various embodiments, the intelligent automated assistant takes into account various types of available context data to determine which address book contact to use, which contact data to use, which telephone number to use for the contact, and the like, so that the user need not re-specify such information manually.[/quote]
Here is another excerpt from US 8,296,383, which was granted to Apple on October 23, 2012:
[quote] If desired, the contextual information that is captured by the electronic device in association with a captured voice command may include audio information. For example, a user may record a spoken phrase. Part of the spoken phrase may represent a voice command and part of the spoken phrase may include associated contextual information. As an example, a user may be using a mapping application on a handheld electronic device. The device may be presenting the user with a map that indicates the user’s current position. The user may press a button or may otherwise instruct the handheld electronic device to record the phrase “I like American restaurants in this neighborhood.” In response, the electronic device may record the spoken phrase. The recorded phrase (in this example), includes a command portion (“I like”) that instructs the mapping application to create a bookmark or other indicator of the user’s preference. The recorded phrase also includes the modifier “American restaurants” to provide partial context for the voice command. Additional contextual information (i.e., the phrase “in this neighborhood) and accompanying position data (e.g., geographic coordinates from global positioning system circuitry in the device) may also be supplied in conjunction with the recorded voice command. When uploaded, the audio clip voice command and the associated audio clip contextual information can be processed by speech recognition software and appropriate actions taken.[/quote]
This brings me to Kontra’s post.
This is what Kontra had to say:
[quote] Context is everything
And yet even when a conventional search engine can correlate “nice” with “romantic” or “cozy” to better filter Asian restaurants, it won’t matter to you if you cannot afford it. Google doesn’t have access to your current bank account, budget or spending habits. So for the restaurant recommendation to be truly useful, it would make sense for it to start at least in a range you could afford, say $$-$$$, but not $$$$ and up.
Therein comes the web browser vs. apps unholy war. A conventional search engine like Google has to maintain an unpalatable level of click-stream snooping to track your financial transactions to build your purchasing profile. That’s not easy (likely illegal on several continents) especially if you’re not constantly using Google Play or Google Wallet, for example. While your credit card history or your bank account is opaque to Google, your Amex or Chase app has all that info. If you allow Siri to securely link to such apps on your iPhone, because this is a highly selective request and you trust Siri/Apple, your app and/or Siri can actually interpret what “nice” is within your budget: up to $85 this month and certainly not in the $150-$250 range and not a $25 hole-in-the wall Chinese restaurant either because it’s your mother’s birthday.
Speaking of your mother, her entry in your Contacts app has a custom field next to “Birthday” called “Food” which lists: “Asian,” “Steak,” and “Rishi Organic White Tea”. On the other hand, Google has no idea, but your Yelp app has 37 restaurants bookmarked by you and every single one is vegetarian. Your mother may not care, but you need a vegetarian restaurant. Siri can do a proper mapping of the two sets of “likes” and find a mutually agreeable choice at their intersection.
So a simple search went from “a restaurant” to “a nice Asian vegetarian restaurant I can afford” because Siri already knew (as in, she can find out on demand) about your cuisine preference and your mother’s and your ability to pay:
Mind you, all these series of data lookups and rule arbitrations among multiple apps happen in milliseconds. Quite a bit of your personal info is cached at Apple servers and the vast majority of data lookups in third party apps are highly structured and available in a format Siri has learned (by a commercial agreement between companies) to directly consume. Still, the degree of coordination underneath Siri’s reassuring voice is utterly nontrivial. And given the clever “personality” Siri comes with, it sounds like pure magic to ordinary users.[/quote]
Lots of folks are that touting Google Now as a serious competitor to Siri. And in many ways Google Now has many advantages, especially in the speed department. However, as Kontra puts it, “context is everything” and this is where Siri has the advantage.
Kontra also nailed it when he said, “Obviously, no new platform as far-reaching as Siri comes without issues and risks… Regardless, Siri stands as a monumental opportunity both for Apple as a transactional money machine and for its users as a new paradigm of discovery and task completion more approachable than any we’ve seen to date. In the end, Siri is Apple’s game to lose.”
[quote] The key is when Jordan also complains that she can often type faster than Siri can think. That’s undoubtedly true. But the thinking here has to extend beyond the present and your own self. It reminds me a bit of the people who used to say that they needed a physical keyboard on their phone. And that Apple would eventually have to add one to the iPhone. It was a certainty. BlackBerry FTW.
Now all of those people seem to happily be using iPhones (or Android phones) without physical keyboards without problems. BlackBerry?
..My point is simply that you should take the Siri backlash with a grain of salt. We’ve seen such backlashes before, we’ll see it again. Everything is “stupid” and “useless” until it’s everywhere.[/quote]