We’ve been eagerly waiting to see what Apple would do with Siri, which it bought in 2010, and now we know: it’s baked it right into iOS 5 on the new iPhone 4S, and based on the demonstration at today’s press conference, it looks set to usher voice control into the mainstream and then some. Make no mistake, this could change our understanding of how we control smartphones – and computers – for ever.
Simply called Siri, it’s activated by a long press of the home button, and it’s smart voice control. It allows you to give your phone commands, such as to voice dictate a text message (via a microphone button on the keyboard) or find a decent Chinese restaurant nearby, a bit like Voice Actions on Google Android smartphones, but based on what we saw it goes a lot further, and gets much more contextual.
Apple VP and iOS boss Scott Forstall demonstrated it on stage by telling the iPhone 4S to set an alarm for 6am (it did so immediately), asking what the weather was like, to be met with the forecast, and getting the definition of the word “mitosis” in a flash.
Siri will also read out your notification messages for you, and even monitor your location to trigger events: Forstall set up a “geo-fence” asking his iPhone 4S to remind him to call his wife when he left work (and he used the word wife – Siri was able to work out this meant the action “call Molly”).
It can even tell you “how to get home” and check iCloud for a song if it’s not stored locally on your phone, but perhaps most impressively, if you tell it to book a meeting in your calendar with a colleague at a certain time, it’ll even tell you if you already have something on then and suggest a time to reschedule.
The idea of talking to your phone in the street might sound daft, but if this works efficiently (Google Voice Actions doesn’t always, a problem exacerbated by the lack of a stock pair of headphones with a microphone), this really could be revolutionary.
Dictation isn’t new, but efficient speech recognition and intelligent commands like this could save you from thumbing out long emails on a tiny screen ever again, and save you countless seconds, minutes and hours by shortening actions that you would otherwise have had to set up by prodding endless menus and typing various commands.
Of course, we’ll have to see how it handles all the various British accents when the iPhone 4S goes on sale across the land on 14 October – stay tuned for plenty more coverage.
Out 14 October | £TBC | Apple