Until Apple released iOS 10, I had no reason to consider Siri as part of my smartphone vocabulary. But, now that Siri can be incorporated as a functional component of every iOS app, I thought it was about time to better understand what Apple’s personal assistant technology was all about.
If you’re an active iOS user, you won’t find a lot of surprises here. However, for the 99% of folks who find themselves in the same position as I was a few month ago (e.g., you think Siri sounds great in theory, but haven’t found a demonstrative need to user her just yet), this should give you some ideas for how you might start to experiment with the technology (and come up with your own ideas) yourself.
Unless otherwise mentioned, I used the ‘Hey Siri’ command to get things moving.
Siri Can Operate iOS Better than You
What did I tell you? Nothing earth-shattering here. However, using Siri to accomplish basic OS tasks was probably the most important time-saving activity I started using her for. In the truest sense, Siri is the zero-UI of iOS. Setting an alarm, creating time or location-based reminders, and taking short notes, for example, are so much easier when you start with ‘Hey Siri.’
Where possible, I made a commitment to not use my thumbs for these actions and the mental impact has been phenomenal. For one, I never realized just how much I hate UI switches and keyboards. I hate having to tap a button to create a new note or a new alarm. With Siri, you can accomplish multiple actions, which had once required several independent taps, with one voice command. My favorite implementation? I can now tell Siri to set an alarm from my pillow, with my eyes shut. If you’ve ever had to get up, unlock your phone, and configure a new alarm, you know just how cumbersome and disruptive it can be. Of course, this works for DND as well.
Effortless Messaging (Especially When Paired)
At the beginning of this little experiment, I also started wearing simple BLE paired watch (the original Garmin Vivoactive, if you’re interested). The watch UI is terrible, but it does display alerts and, most importantly, the content of text messages. As my wife would tell you, I hate getting texts while walking the mile from the train to my office, especially when it’s raining or below freezing (and did I mention I hate typing?).
Instead of stopping on the street to pull out my phone and respond to a message, I used the combination of the watch and Apple’s headphone/microphone to read and ask Siri to respond to messages without every looking at my phone. Of course, this use case doesn’t work well with ‘Hey Siri,’ although holding the button between the + and – buttons on the headphone hardware is a suitable compromise. Since Siri tells you what she’s going to send before sending it, you can confirm she’s head your correctly first.
Quicker and Less Intrusive that “Just Google It”
As the only follower of Big XII sports in my office, I get a lot of questions about how teams in the conference performed over the weekend. The trouble is, I don’t follow the Big XII as consistently as some of by Big X compatriots do. Rather than just saying, “Ugh, I don’t know when Baylor is playing this Saturday,” or “Nope, not sure who’s going to win this weekend for the conference championship,” I can ask Siri. Obviously, asking Siri is communicating the same lack of information, but it does make me sound a lot cooler and gives people something else to talk about.
One quick note about the “intrusiveness” of using Siri. Clearly speaking and listening to a robot can be distracting if you’re around other people. However, if you’re in a group where using Siri won’t become an intrusive action, using Siri for quick information can be loads simpler and distracting than having to fire up a browser and ensure you’ve typed in your search query correctly. That said, I do want to sort of start using Siri in situations where I could otherwise be talking to people. This could produce interesting reactions and interactions.
Consuming Written Content is Infinitely Simpler
On my way to the train, I was catching up on an article I saved about Crossfit and running, and got a little lost when the author mentioned her anterior deltoids. Instead of opening a new browser tab on mobile Safari, I asked Siri, “What are the anterior deltoids?” She quickly previewed the Wikipedia article on deltoids, complete with a photo of the muscle group, which was all I needed. I closed down Siri and continued reading.
Mobile technology providers have made huge strides in the last five years in content display for smaller devices, Google Search being one of the primary catalysts in the space. Siri’s ability to be really good at this kind of content display is highly dependent on the content requested. More often than not, she showed me the results of a Bing search. However, when she does get it right (e.g., the content is specific and defined enough that a single result is readily accessible online), it makes life a million times easier.
No, Siri’s not perfect, but after spending some time experimenting with Siri, I really don’t think that’s the point. Like many technologies, it’s an experiment whose results are designed to help people build something even better. If there’s a technology you’re interested in trying out, but don’t have the time to experiment with, let me know in the comments.