Posts tagged with "siri"

How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri

For most of us, Siri is merely a momentary diversion. But for some, it’s more. My son’s practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him that I’ve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory. I can promise you that for most of my beautiful son’s 13 years of existence, that has not been the case.

Beautiful story by Judith Newman for The New York Times.

It's easy to dismiss tech companies as “greedy corporations that only strive to make money”, and in many cases that's the simple truth. But in other cases, what they make truly has a positive impact on human lives that is far away from mere financial returns. This story about Siri and an autistic boy is a great example.


The Next Assistant from the Creators of Siri

Steven Levy has a story on Viv, the next assistant from the creators of Siri:

Viv strives to be the first consumer-friendly assistant that truly achieves that promise. It wants to be not only blindingly smart and infinitely flexible but omnipresent. Viv’s creators hope that some day soon it will be embedded in a plethora of Internet-connected everyday objects. Viv founders say you’ll access its artificial intelligence as a utility, the way you draw on electricity. Simply by speaking, you will connect to what they are calling “a global brain.” And that brain can help power a million different apps and devices.

I've often argued that the ability to understand context between sentences and learn the true meaning of voice commands is one of Siri's biggest limitations. Viv wants to go beyond that, offering intelligence as a “utility” much like WiFi or Bluetooth. That's a bold statement.

If Viv lives up to its promise – check out the examples in the story to see what it should be capable of – other companies will have a lot to catch up to. The last image in Levy's article is particularly impressive.


Owning Music vs. Acquiring Music

Brad Hill, writing at RAIN News about the shift from owning music to acquiring it through Internet streaming services and the importance of “music ID” apps:

One growing catalyst of this trend is the music-identification app, a category dominated by Shazam and SoundHound. These apps, which identify music wherever in the world it is heard, bring the “celestial jukebox” down to earth where it is even more vast and connected to the user.

Increasingly, these apps function as pivot points between what you hear and how you acquire. They enable purchasing an identified song in iTunes, for those who still favor outright ownership. But more ominously for music-download merchants, Shazam and SoundHound can fling your song discoveries into some of the most popular on-demand services.

Years after the launch of Shazam and SoundHound, it still feels incredible to me that you can hold your phone up to a speaker to recognize any song in seconds. Apple has reportedly recognized the value of music ID software, and they may be planning to integrate Shazam into Siri for iOS 8.

I hope that, if true, this integration won't be exclusive to Siri's voice activation system, because one of the best things about Shazam is that you only need to tap the app icon to start listening. A voice-only command would ruin Shazam's immediacy (not to mention that Siri would have issues understanding your voice command if loud music is playing). Ideally, it'd be great to simply activate Siri with a tap & hold of the Home button anywhere on iOS and let it listen to whatever's playing with no voice input required.


Siri’s Accuracy Continues To Improve

Erik Slivka:

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who has regularly assessed Siri’s accuracy in terms of correctly interpreting and answering queries, has issued the latest version of his Siri report card, noting that Siri has continued to improve under iOS 7, particularly in terms of being able to properly interpret questions being asked.

My experience in the past four months has been the opposite of what Marco describes: the Italian Siri of iOS 7 fails less than before, is faster (even on 3G), and it understands my queries better. Is it because of different servers and the amount of requests that Italian Siri gets? I have no idea.

As I noted in September:

A feature that I didn’t initially like and that I’ve criticized on multiple occasions, Siri, is much improved in iOS 7. I actually am using Siri quite a bit more now, and I was surprised by the quality of the Italian voice, its increased speed, clean new design, and new functions.

It’s still far from perfect, but I’ve been using Siri on a daily basis for phone calls, directions, and Wikipedia integration. I particularly appreciate how iOS 7 made Siri smarter in understanding pronouns, indirect speech, and verb conjugations.

I’m not a “Siri power user” (I don’t know all the possible tricks and commands), but I’m happy with the improvements in iOS 7.


The Original Voice of Siri

Great story by CNN's Jessica Ravitz, who found, almost by accident, the woman who says she's "100% sure" she's the voice of the original Siri (the one that debuted with iOS 5 exactly two years ago).

Behind this groundbreaking technology there is a real woman. While the ever-secretive Apple has never identified her, all signs indicate that the original voice of Siri in the United States is a voiceover actor who laid down recordings for a client eight years ago. She had no idea she'd someday be speaking to more than 100 million people through a not-yet-invented phone.

Her name is Susan Bennett and she lives in suburban Atlanta.


Siri Responds To Long Questions With Quotes On Brevity

Phil Dzikiy:

In a quiet server-side update, Apple has given Siri the ability to respond to requests with quotes, notably to suggest that the user is being too long-winded. When asking the assistant a question — presumably one that Apple’s servers find too long or difficult to parse — Siri responds with William Strunk and Thomas Jefferson quotes alluding to brevity.

Certainly a better user experience than simply returning an error for longer questions.

Unsurprisingly, Italian Siri doesn't come with quotes from renowned Italian authors or historical figures. Siri does have a similar behavior, though: in my tests, Italian Siri always commented on the length of my questions, and even told me how one of them was "kilometric".


Why Are Calendar Apps Dumb?

Smart piece by Jason Snell.

There are two key factors involved here: old interface patterns and constant data collection. New designs can be experimented with; parsing data introduces layers of complexity that go deeper than providing a new month view.

Google is working on this kind of technology with Now. It's plausible to assume Apple is, too.


Siri Cheat Sheet

Brett Terpstra:

I also added a cheat sheet for Siri. I know it’s not the most useful thing in the world; how often are you sitting at your laptop or desktop when you want to use Siri? Still, I’d spent some time exploring and needed a way to practice the various command syntaxes so that I’d be able to use them without thinking so much after I hit the button.

While I always check out every project by Brett, I somehow missed this one. The Siri cheat sheet is part of a bigger collection called Cheaters:

Cheaters is a collection of HTML-based cheat sheets meant for display in an Automator-based popup browser which can float on your screen while you work in other apps.

I have already found some commands I didn't know Siri supported. I am now wondering if any Italian ever made an Italian Siri cheat sheet as thorough as this one. (note: this is sad, but unsurprising)

I look forward to playing more with Cheaters. The way Brett calls the HTML file with Automator is particularly clever and extensible. Make sure to check out the other cheat sheets, which include MultiMarkdown and Sublime Text 2.


Textual Siri

Textual Siri



Here's a good article by Rene Ritchie from June 2012 about a textual interface for Siri:

If Spotlight could access Siri's contextually aware response engine, the same great results could be delivered back, using the same great widget system that already has buttons to touch-confirm or cancel, etc.

I completely agree. Spotlight lets you find apps and data to launch on your device; aside from its “assistant” functionality, Siri lets you search for specific information (either on your device or the web). There's no reason find and search shouldn't be together. Siri gained app-launching capabilities, but Spotlight still can't accept Siri-like text input.

The truth is, I think using Siri in public is still awkward. My main use of Siri is adding calendar events or quick alarms when I'm a) cooking or b) driving my car. When I'm working in front of an iPad, I just don't see the point of using voice input when I have a keyboard and the speech recognition software is still failing at recognizing moderately complex Italian queries. When I'm waiting for my doctor or in line at the grocery store, I just don't want to be that guy who pulls out his phone and starts talking with a robotic assistant. Ten years after my first smartphone, I still prefer avoiding phone calls in public because a) other people don't need to know my business and b) I was taught that talking on the phone in public can be rude. How am I supposed to tell Siri to “read me” my schedule when I have 10 people around me?

I think a textual Siri, capable of accepting written input instead of spoken commands, would provide a great middle ground for those situations when you don't want to/can't talk in public. Like Rene, I think putting the functionality in Spotlight would be a fine choice; apps like Fantastical have shown that “natural language input” with text can still be a modern, useful addition to our devices.

Text input brings different challenges: how would Siri handle typos? Would it wait until you've finished writing a sentence or refresh with results as-you-type? Would Siri lose its “conversational” approach, or provide butttons to reply with “Yes” or “No” to its further questions?

Text, however, has also its advantages: text is universal, free of voice alterations (think accents and dialects), independent from surrounding noise and/or microphone proximity. With a textual Siri, Apple could keep its users within its control by letting them ask for restaurant suggestions, weather information, unit conversions, or sports results without having to open other apps and/or launch Google.

It's just absurd to think semantic search integration can only be applied to voice recognition, especially in the current version of Siri. I agree with Kontra: Siri isn't really about voice.

More importantly: if Google can do it, why can't Apple?