The Present and Hypothetical Future Siri

This week, John Gruber wrote a post about how Siri is becoming more useful to him. I think John’s right, Siri is a lot better. Although I am definitely looking at this from the vantage point of a Siri fanboy. I liked it from the beginning. I dictate often and like to think I’m pretty good at it. I’m actually dictating these words right now in Drafts on my iPhone. I’ve watched Siri grow up to a certain extent. Those people who gave up on it at the beginning are missing out. You should understand that like some other Apple terms (iCloud, for instance), Siri has several components.

Siri Dictation

This is the easiest bit. You speak and Siri returns your words as text. With iOS 8, Siri dictation got the ability to return your words as (or very shortly after) you say them. This was the single biggest improvement to Siri yet. With pre-iOS 8 Siri, you’d dictate your words and, only after you finished, would the recording grind through Apple’s servers and return words, at least theoretically. Sometimes it would just blink and silently mock you. Even if you have no interest in asking Siri how to bury a dead body, tapping the little microphone button and speaking to your iOS device (or Mac) to make words appear can be liberating. I recommend trying it for three days. It’s a game changer.

Siri the Intelligent Assistant

Then there is the entirely separate Siri that you ask to do something, like set a timer. This version of Siri has two jobs: 1) figure out what you just said, and; 2) figure out what you want it to do. Even if Siri gets all the words right in step 1, it still has a new and unique opportunity to fail in step 2. I think Siri has improved at phase 2 as much as it has improved at phase 1. I also think this improvement could only have come from Apple shipping Siri and letting millions of people bang up against it. While Siri is hardly perfect, it is damn useful.

Siri on the Mac

Apple has put dictation on the Mac with recent version of the Mac OS. It is, in some ways superior than Siri dictation in iOS, in that it no longer requires an Internet connection, assuming you enable enhanced dictation. However, Apple has yet to bring the Intelligent Assistant to the Mac. Dan Moren thinks they should and I agree. As someone who spends a lot of time behind a Mac, I’d love to be able to ask about the weather, set a timer, or do a simple web search with my voice. As Home Kit gets legs, it’d push more than few of my buttons to also be able to turn down the lights are start a playlist with my voice. I particularly agree with Dan’s desire for hypothetical Mac Siri to let users set the custom trigger phrase. Using “Hey Siri” leads to way too many hijinks as it is. If instead I could set my own unique phrase, I could make it something less likely to go off unexpectedly. For those of us that give our Macs names, it would also let us have a little fun. “Good Day Thelonious, What’s the weather going to be tomorrow?”