“Siri – Can I Tell You a Secret?”

Recently Apple released their iPhone 4S and regardless of how excited you might be about the new camera or the new processor the reality is that the feature everybody is talking about (and to) is “Siri” the voice-enabled “personal assistant”.

You can ask Siri to find the nearest coffee shop, to wake you up at a particular time, to tell you what the weather is expected to be, to call or send a message to a contact in your address book…even to look up random facts for you.

One of the most intriguing things about Siri is that you can tell it to “Remind me of X the next time I’m here.” Siri knows where “here” is based upon your GPS coordinates and the next time you’re there…she’ll cheerfully remind you of “X

Siri is a pretty remarkable step forward in making our “Personal Digital Assistants” truly personal (and truly assistive) though she still has some limitations.

First of all, like all voice-recognition software, how good it is depends a bit upon how good the speaker is. James Earl Jones would probably do very well with Siri. Bob Dylan? Not so much. For those of us in between Siri may occasionally struggle.

It also depends upon the environment you’re in when you want to use it. Sitting at your desk at home – should work fairly well unless you have small children doing enthusiastic laps around your desk at the time or a dog who wants to ask Siri his own question. In the car…hit or miss. But turn the radio off (or at least way down) if you want more hits than misses. One tech pundit said he tried to use Siri on the streets of New York one day but just gave up because there was just too much ambient noise for it to be useful.

Also keep in mind that Siri is not very monogamous. It may recognize you by name, but it’s not above accepting instructions from others. This is actually the basis of a recently-discovered security flaw – if somebody else gets ahold of your iPhone 4S, even if you have the screen locked (and you should) they can still activate Siri and get her to do things like read your e-mail or send texts as you.

The next issue you’ll have to consider with Siri is just how much of your life you want to share with those around you. Do you really want to ask Siri to add your proctologist appointment to your calendar while you’re having lunch in a crowded restaurant? Are you likely to respond to a sensitive e-mail from a client while surrounded with a hundred other passengers at an airport gate? There are definitely times when discretion is the better part of valor – or at least the better part of courtesy. I’m not sure I’d WANT to be on an airplane where 300 other people are all chattering incessantly to their devices.

One thing Siri has already done, however, that I think is absolutely positive is that it has pushed the competition to make this kind of technology to the next level. Already the Android community has responded with “Iris” (read that backwards). Iris is, to be fair, quite a ways behind Siri in terms of capabilities but it’s no secret that Iris is basically a prototype. There are now teams of smart folks working hard on both Siri and Iris (and undoubtedly competitors as yet unrecognized) and I think the next 18 months will bring some really remarkable progress in the field.


  1. Thom McKiernan (@thommck)

    Microsoft’s next version of TellMe is looking just as good as Siri and will be used on Windows 8, Xbox, Windows Phones, even some Ford cars! Check out the video here

  2. David Collier-Brown

    In either case, you’re telling a Google or Microsoft’s search engine a secret, or perhaps a portion of one.

    Currently, it will be hard to find among all the other secrets they are being told today. Unless, of course, a hacker is funded to snoop your law firm in particular, in which case it’s probably a better source of information than your garbage bin (;-))