Back in 2011, Siri was supposed to change the way we interact with our computers and phones. But that didn’t happen. Siri was a disappointment immediately unveiling and hasn’t quite lived up to its original promise.
But it’s about to get a lot better.
Apple advertised Siri as an “intelligent assistant that helps you gets things done just by asking.” It was the central feature on the iPhone 4S, and the only major difference between that phone and its predecessor, the iPhone 4.
Siri ignited sales of the iPhone 4S, which broke all of Apple’s previous sales records at the time in its first 24 hours of pre-order availability.
Apple tapped celebrities for Siri’s first TV commercials: Zooey Deschanel, Samuel L. Jackson, and Martin Scorsese demonstrated how Siri could help people in their day-to-day life, (mostly) hands-free.
Despite this massive hype, customers were quickly disappointed by the real thing. Siri had some major flaws:
- Delayed responses. In Apple’s original promo videos for Siri, there appeared to be very little pause between the user’s questions and Siri’s answers. In reality, users would wait a considerable amount of time for Siri to find and load the answer, even if it was simply to skip a song on a playlist, or find the weather. Siri needs a solid internet connection in order to do anything at all.
- Limited knowledge. At launch, Siri could only help you set reminders, check the weather, or play music; in other words, the experience was largely limited to controlling a few aspects of Apple’s own first-party apps. For most other queries, Siri could only point you to a Safari web search, which is frustratingly close to what everyone wanted Siri to do, which is go that extra step and deliver the right answer.
- No memory. A true assistant can remember your past conversations and preferences to help you make decisions. Unfortunately, Siri has never been able to remember previous conversations. Each time you summon Siri, it’s like meeting a complete stranger every time, so there’s no way for Siri to offer personalised suggestions. Siri’s existence is limited to being a question-and-answer robot, rather than an assistant that can tailor results to your specific needs.
This bungled launch was all it took for people to write off Siri as a joke.
In the past five years, however, the app and its competitors have gotten a lot better. In the near future, they could become indispensable.
Siri gets better
Apple isn’t the only major tech player making a voice assistant these days. Microsoft has Cortana, and Google has Google Now, which is better than Siri at listening and comprehension. Google’s new product called “Now On Tap” can read anything on your phone’s screen and instantly show you more information about what you’re looking at.
But Siri has improved considerably since its early days to better match Google Now. Siri can now identify songs playing nearby, give you sports scores, movie times, and stock comparisons. It can find songs and albums in Apple Music, find nearby restaurants and book reservations, tell you haiku and stories, and find apps in the App Store for you.
As for the next evolution of Siri, Apple wants you to search less and have more information find you instead. Soon, Siri will suggest applications to use based on your habits, so if you like listening to music in the morning, or playing Candy Crush, Siri will show you an icon in the bottom of your screen to quickly activate those apps.
You’ll be able to use Siri to search within applications as well. So if you’re looking for a specific lasagna recipe, Siri can point you to relevant content within the various apps on your phone, and also give you direct links to the web, with easy back-links, too.
Based on your habits, Siri will be able to predict what you want to do, and activate apps automatically, too — so as soon as you plug in your headphones, Siri could pull up your workout playlist in Apple Music.
Siri began as a liaison to the iPhone, but despite those basic beginnings, it might soon be the best way to connect to the entire digital world, particularly from a mobile device. Hopefully, it will soon be able to remember past conversations and preferences like a human would, to make you happy and even surprise you (have you ever seen “Her”?). But since Siri’s main competitor Google Now keeps getting better, Apple will have plenty of motivation to make Siri smarter each year until it stops becoming a punchline, and starts becoming a digital tool you couldn’t possibly live without.