I’ve been testing Apple’s new service called Siri, which is only available on the new iPhone, for the past week. To sum up my overall review in one word: Wow!
In fact, I’m dictating this entire review using the Siri application on my iPhone. Although I have tested Dragon Dictation’s voice recognition software for the Mac for several years, I find that this Siri service is actually easier to use on my iPhone than the Dragon Dictation software was to use on a computer.
Yes, you read that right, I prefer dictating using my dinky little iPhone than using my more powerful computer. As I dictate this review right now, I’m holding the iPhone in my hand and dictating using the Apple your phones so that I can speak into the headset in the ear headphones while I watch as Siri dictates what I say.
Siri is not perfect. Periodically, I have to stop to make minor adjustments when it misses a word or mis-capitalizes something. Still, it’s far easier to do this on my iPhone tend to use Dragon Dictation on the computer.
You can use Siri to dictate into the iPhone anywhere you would otherwise use a keyboard. So, for example, you can dictate emails very rapidly and easily by using the Siri dictation app instead of pecking out things awkwardly on the tiny virtual keyboard. If Siri mis-transcribes a word you can often select an alternative by tapping on the word, at which point the iPhone will suggest other words that might be appropriate.
Although the pure dictation mode is useful, we are Siri really shines is in serving as a virtual assistant.
For example, if I wonder what time it is in London I can say “what time is it in London?” And Siri will return an answer immediately. I can also ask Siri to suggest nearby restaurants simply by saying “are there any restaurants nearby?”
Gee, I wonder what the weather what will be like for the next few days? All I have to do is hold down the button until Siri prompts me with a cute little ping, and then say “what’s the weather going to be like for the next few days?”
If I don’t want to have to navigate to my email program and then fire it up just to send someone an email I don’t have to. I can say “Siri email Dane Ciolino.” Siri will then prompt me and say “okay, what do you want to say to Dane Ciolino?” (By the way, as I dictated that name, Siri had no problem spelling it correctly because Dane’s name is in my address book). After I tell Siri what I want to say to Dane it will ask me if I want to send the email, and, if I confirm, the email will be sent without me ever having touched the keyboard.
This is purely magical.
I have tested Siri and a number of situations. For example, you would expect it to only work effectively while using Wi-Fi. However, it seems to work very well in 3G environments as well. I was in a crowded restaurant the other day and the question came up about how many engineering graduates Stanford put out each year. I queried Siri, not expecting it to understand what I said, but it transcribed my question perfectly. (It wasn’t able to answer the question, but it did offer to perform a web search which returned some promising results on Google, but I wasn’t able to quickly get the answer I wanted).
My conclusion, after having used Siri for about a week, is that Apple is expecting this to be a major feature in all mobile devices going forward. Granted, it’s not necessarily going to become a major feature in the next iteration, or even in the next two years. Getting people acclimated to using voice recognition is a tricky process. But, Apple’s implementation of this feature on a small mobile device, is truly amazing.
I presume that many people will dismiss Siri has a novelty, and some people who find it interesting will get bored with it after awhile. But for those who see the true power of it, and who are willing to learn how to tap into it, Siri will be a major shift in how they interact with their iPhone.