Siri and the New Speech Imperative

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Precis

Much has already been written about Siri, the app turned “intelligent assistant” that Apple embedded into the iPhone 4S – and will presumably integrate more broadly into iOS in the future. Siri is one of the surprising factors behind the success of the 4S, which initially received a lukewarm response from many critics because of its too-similar appearance to its immediate predecessor.

Unlike other voice apps and services that came before it, Siri has managed to captivate people’s imaginations and even become a source of national news and controversy. It has also spawned imitators and “me-too” apps that aspire to similar capabilities but don’t execute anywhere near as well.

Like other new Apple product launches Siri is starting to broadly impact user expectations and the competitive landscape. Together with Microsoft’s introduction of voice control on the Xbox this week Siri creates a new standard for “natural user interfaces.” At a recent search conference someone remarked, “Voice is the new touch.”

As the report below discusses, Siri represents a kind of breakthrough moment for speech -- not in terms of back-end recognition technology necessarily but in terms of consumer awareness and adoption.

Siri is far from perfect, however. Right now one of its great weaknesses is, ironically, “local search.” We say that because Siri began its life in early 2010 as a voice-enabled local search tool. Today most of Siri’s local content comes from Yelp. Otherwise the local functionality is quite "thin."

Apple has stripped out pre-existing “transactional” capabilities present in the app before Apple bought the company. Those transactional capabilities hint at Siri’s future and how its role will likely expand. One version of that future is “search without search results.” And though it’s not true today, Siri and third party apps (and APIs) could ultimately displace conventional search engines on the iPhone and completely reshape how we think about and conduct what we today call “mobile search.”

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