There are times when Apple plays a little too heavy on the presentation of a new product or feature, and pays less attention to actual usability. Siri is the perfect example. Apple likes a presentation to have some sizzle and a talking smartphone with a slightly sassy attitude is exactly what Siri was, but it took a few years to attain true usability. But that was then and this is now and in the few years since Siri debuted on the iPhone the function has taken some hefty (and sometimes deserved) criticism, and managed to improve to a point slightly beyond acceptable usability.
I have few doubts that in future years Siri or her offspring will become as useful to computer users as the keyboard and screen are today. Compare the tiny black and white screen which debuted on the Mac back in 1984 to the iPhone or iPad’s screen today. Likewise, we’ll see steady, incremental improvements in Siri as a companion user interface and more deeply embedded into the operating system and into third party applications.
Siri will not play the part of Star Trek’s computer (voiced by Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett, an emotionless, faceless assistant, but become a true personal computer assistant with a slight attitude. I would like to see three basic improvements in future versions of Siri.
The first, multiple voices. Siri was born with an obviously feminine voice, but having multiple voice options would be a plus. It’s somewhat sexist to assume that a digital personal assistant on your Apple devices must be feminine.
Second, deeper integration of Siri’s capabilities and responses; deeper into Apple’s own applications, and with full usage from third party app developers. That would make Siri more usable and more useful.
Third, I want to see more integrated cognizance, and by that I mean Siri will know who you are, and be able to respond appropriately across all of your devices in a more personal way. In other words, Siri wouldn’t always give the same response to the same queries to different users.
Finally, I expect to see personality depth in the form of a simple slider bar setting. Move the bar all the way to the right, and Siri is your new BFF, capable of interrupting you (as would a friend) to ask questions, or inform you of something Siri thinks you need to know, but full of the personality and quirks you’d expect from a friend. Move the slider bar all the way to the left, a default setting, if you will, and Siri becomes the personal assistant drone that simply does what he or she is told to do; nothing less, nothing more; somewhat devoid of an engaging personality.
Getting Siri to become more of the person in personal computing will take time. Integration, either into the OS, or within third party applications is no mean feat, and progress will only be incremental. Think of it as a timeline where Siri’s current interaction with users is merely part of early education, pre-school perhaps, but with rapid advancement as Siri (and Apple’s ability to gather data in the cloud to make Siri more useful on a personal basis, a required action which might open up some privacy and security concerns in the future, but allow me to save that for another article at a later date).
At this point Siri has improved enough to become quite useful, thanks to deeper integration into iOS, Apple apps, and eventually third party apps. This is but a beginning, early steps to make computing devices which are truly personal.