iPhone 4S: Siri, your personal assistant

October 5, 2011

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I could really use a personal assistant” ? Apple’s aiming to fill that gap for you with Siri, the voice recognition and navigation feature in the new iPhone.

I hear you, Android users. You’re saying, “Well, my phone already does that.” And that’s true — Android phones have the capability to transcribe text messages, give directions, play music, make calls, send e-mails, navigate the Web and more. But what sets Siri apart is the way it recognizes natural speech and the way it syncs with your calendar and clock.

For example, if you set an appointment for 2 p.m., Siri will let you know if you already have an appointment at that time and suggest a different time for a meet-up. You can also ask her (it’s a female voice in U.S. demos, though a male voice answered in the BBC’s British demo) to set an alarm “in an hour” for you, as opposed to saying something like, “Set alarm clock for 3:34 p.m.”

Not only that, you can ask Siri for the weather by saying something like, “Should I pack an umbrella today?” rather than using the set voice query language required in Android.

That difference is “transformative” and will appeal to the average consumers, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Gartner.

“It has a very strong science fiction-like feel to it,” he said. “It’s not typically what people see in consumer grade products.”

Siri will also be able to use your location to remind you to do certain tasks when you leave or arrive at set places to keep you from forgetting to “pick up some milk when I leave work.”

The program is currently supported in English, German and French. It is only available on the iPhone 4S.

Overall, reviewers have been raving about the program, which also has some personality built in to its design. When CBS’s John Blackstone asked Siri what the meaning of life is, she replied, “Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book now and then.”

Siri may face one unforeseen problem: in Japan, siri transliterates to “shiri,” which is the Japanese word for buttocks. The Twittersphere has been making plenty of noise about this cross-cultural misstep at Apple’s expense.

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Apple’s iPhone 4S ‘underwhelms’

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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