What can Siri, on the iPhone 4S, do for you?

Need a personal assistant but can’t afford one? Or are you a personal assistant trying to do the job of three people? Take another look at the iPhone 4S and Siri.

Siri is the personal digital assistant that is accessible via every iPhone 4S, and soon, the iPad. We say accessible because it’s not actually built-in to the phone, but rather “she” resides on a super-computer, accessed online. That’s why Siri’s performance can vary according to how good the iphone’s connectivity is. She’s an advanced online database, capable of remarkable voice recognition. But, go “off the grid” (outside the cellular or wifi network), and Siri asks you to get on the internet, then falls silent. To understand why some folks love Siri, and others are less enamored, let’s examine what expectations are vs. the real-life functionality.
Some of us couldn’t wait to get that iPhone 4S, and others don’t really see the point. The nay-sayers believe the iPhone 4 works just fine, and really, Siri has been a big disappointment for many, right? Well, not exactly. The iPhone 4S, just like it’s 3GS predecessor, is markedly faster than the 4. The screen is brighter, and certainly crisper with that retina display. But let’s face it. We live on our iPhones, having adopted it as an additional, indispensible appendage. We check for messages, updates, use it as a watch, a map, a pricing comparison tool, a problem-solver, a camera, a camcorder, a journal, a level, and a flashlight – all in less than an hour. And, it’s a phone. I almost forgot.

Yes, we’ll admit it. We are hooked. And since we use the iPhone so much (to the point we might have to consider a 12-step program to pull us away from it . . . briefly), speed and ease of use is paramount. Enter Siri, supported by a dual A5 processor. Tired of tapping away on those little keys? Ask Siri to write it for you. Can’t see the calendar in the bright sunlight to jot down that appointment you just agreed to? Tell Siri to make the appointment with Julia next Tuesday, at 10am. She’ll even confirm that she got it right. They’re not kidding with those commercials. Siri CAN remind you to pull something off the stove in 15 minutes. While not perfect, Siri is as impressive as the flipping of a light switch for the first time must have been in 1893. We take those light switches for granted now, and within months, perhaps weeks, we will do the same with Siri.

When Siri was first introduced, users couldn’t wait to put this wonder assistant through its paces. Users asked Siri the meaning of life, among other things, and were amused by the multiple, entertaining answers Apple has programmed into it. Curse Siri, and she will reprimand you. But soon enough, unrealistic expectations mounted. Who doesn’t want a device that understands not only what we say, but what we MEAN? Those unfamiliar with how voice recognition works don’t realize that background noise can interfere with Siri’s ability to understand a command or a question. Harder still, the program is challenged by erratic, halting dialogue some users might use to communicate with the assistant. Rather than ask Siri a straightforward question, someone asks “uhm…let’s see, tell me how many stars.. are …uh… (what was I going to ask? Oh yeah) how many stars are in the uh..”
Siri would pause, unable to answer. Or, one would say “call my mother and tell her I’m going to be running about five, no, better make it ten…nah…let’s say 20 minutes late, then remind me that I need to write her a birthday card before I leave for my trip, ok?” Imagine the myriad of accents, poorly enunciated speech, or jumbles of words coming out of mouths that have just taken a bite of food. Humans can adapt to poor speech quality – computers, not so much.

Clearly, the more direct, and simple the questions are, such as “how many stars are in our galaxy” or “remind me to call my mother to let her know I’m running 20 minutes late”, the more successful the command. With that in mind, let’s review some of the commands that you might use to take full advantage of this cool feature.

A few tips to keep in mind:

– You’ll want to pay attention to background noise.
– If you’re driving, roll up that window, and turn off the radio.

– If you’re walking past a construction site, or are in the middle of traffic noise, or a
large hall full of people chatting away, Siri will most likely not be able to discern your commands from the background noise.

– If someone is speaking to you, don’t pull Siri up and ask a question. Not only is it rude, but Siri will listen to the person addressing you as much as she will listen to your being rude.

– If a child is crying, or a dog is barking, or a door is slammed just when you try to use Siri, you will not get the desired result.

– Find a quiet moment when posing questions to Siri. And, pause a moment when giving a command, so that Siri can process your question.

– Remember, Siri is not in the palm of your hand, but rather a super computer you are calling for information. It takes time to retrieve such information, especially if your cellular connection is slow at the time.

– If you don’t get the result you expected, she probably couldn’t connect to the mothership.

What Siri can do (Pre-iOS6):

Pull information from the web
Read back the last text that was sent to you
Write and send a text that you dictate
Retrieve information from the internet (weather, time, definitions)
Find places close to your location (such as restaurants, stores, landmarks)
Set appointments in you calendar when prompted properly
Set reminders when prompted properly
Call contacts in your Apple Address Book
Allow you to dictate to any app that offers a keypad (such as Mail, Safari, Texting, Notes)
Play selected playlists.
Remind you of events when you’ve setup location-aware event reminders (reminds you to pick up groceries when you’re near a supermarket)
Show addresses you dictate, on a map
Recite stock quotes
And More . . .

What Siri does not do (Pre-iOS6):

Launch multiple apps and steps to execute complex command sets.
Read back your email (in pre-iOS 6 versions)
Delete photos you’ve taken
Give turn by turn directions
Tell a joke
Change voices
Look up store hours of retail establishments on a website
Turn on or off on command
Send messages or texts to contacts not in your address book.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. And keep in mind that with the new iOS updates that were just announced (coming this Fall), Siri’s functionality is about to expand to include:

Future developments

Support for Sports Scores
More restaurant information (Reviews and Open Table Reservations)
Geo-fenced reminders (we’ll go into that on another post when the time comes)
Navigation (technically a separate application, but accessible via Siri
And the list goes on. . . .

The good news for real-life assistants is that Siri and the iPhone can make them more efficient, and actually assist THEM in underscoring how invaluable they are to their employers. The iPhone 4S should be in every executive assistant’s ammo belt.

For some examples of Siri in action on the iPhone 4S, please refer to our “How-to” video clips (COMING SOON), and locate the one entitled “Hello Siri!”
Last but not least, Siri will soon be available not only on the iPad, but will also be integrated into the new Mountain Lion OS as dictation becomes part of the standard OS. Don’t get rid of that Mac Dictate software by Nuance just yet. We have to see how well the built-in dictation works. If it’s all that Apple promises, we may soon be able to finally ditch that keyboard, and ask Siri to bring us coffee.