For decades now, voice control over any type of hardware has been the epitome of immersive user interface. From Star Trek to Iron Man, you have seen the benefits of vocal commands used over and over in many forms of science fiction. To date, technology still tries to mimic the essence of voice control from its sci-fi roots.
Like 3D, voice control has been a fun gimmick for computers, video game peripherals like Kinect and even televisions. More often than not, the software fails to capture the greatness that voice control could one day be. Recently however, Apple introduced the iPhone-4S-exclusive voice control behemoth known as Siri — which soon became the most popular feature of the handset. Why hasn’t this extremely helpful and rather cool piece of software made it to OS X yet? Better yet, why should it?
The Gimmick Breakdown
Before going further, there is one very important fact that should be noted about Apple products and technology in general. Technology always strives to make things simpler, faster, better, and as immersive as possible. When the iPad first came out, most people (myself included) believed it to be just a “huge iPhone that no one would want.” Interestingly enough, the iPad came out and it sold like fresh baked bread. The iPad became an amazingly useful tool for students, teachers, designers, freelancers, journalists, kids, parents, families and so on.
Although Siri is not a new invention or a new piece of hardware, the advances that it has over other software like it tells us that this technology is no longer just a gimmick. Most gimmicks don’t work as advertised, they are usually never practical and more often than not, they give us a headache rather than help us with the task at hand. Siri, like the iPad, is a simple, useful and powerful companion.
But if Siri is not a gimmick, why is this piece of tech absent from OS X?
The Hardware Requirements
If we look at the hardware specs for current Macs and compare it to the iPhone’s, we can see some technical challenges that Siri faces when being ported to OS X. The Mac’s internal microphone for instance isn’t as sophisticated as the iPhone 4S dual microphone setup specifically made for noise reduction. This means that your Mac won’t focus on just your voice, so Siri might get confused when listening to your commands. Your mac does a pretty good job at canceling noise, sure, just not as good as the iPhone.
Siri also relies on a continuous data connection in order to interface with Apple’s servers which contain all of Siri’s knowledge. Macs today don’t have 3G or 4G capabilities. This means the use of Siri on a Mac — or at least on MacBooks — would be limited.
Regardless of these few limitations however, there isn’t a good reason why Siri should not appear on a future release of Apple’s operating system. Take a look at the trackpad for example. I have a 2007 pre-unibody Macbook Pro with a trackpad that doesn’t allow me to take advantage of my software’s multi-gesture features. Apple decided that they wanted Mac users to manipulate OSX with gestures like those found on the iPhone, so they simply updated all MacBooks and peripherals accordingly.
If Siri really needs a better microphone and a constant Internet connection in order to be featured in the next iteration of Apple’s OS, it is really hard to believe that Apple won’t refresh its hardware — not to mention that in a few years most devices will connect to 4G.
The Benefits of Siri-Enabled OSX
Let’s forget about what Siri currently handles on your iPhone 4S; let’s think about everything you do on your computer. Siri on the Mac should be more than just a simple appointment-scheduling, event-reminding feature. Today we use many apps to handle tasks in a fast and practical manner. Apps like TextExpander, Alfred, Keyboard Maestro, QuickSilver can be utilized to open apps, run AppleScripts, do quick searches on various websites, handle automated functions, expanding text and so on. Siri, if implemented well, could handle all of these operations and more.
Imagine you are a web designer or a graphic designer and you are working on a few projects in Photoshop. In one window you are working on a logo and in the other, a website mockup is awaiting to be sliced, saved, moved and uploaded to your server from your FTP app of choice.
As you keep working on your logo, simply say: “Siri, save file X for the web to the desktop. Open Cyberduck in the background and upload file X to folder Y.” OSX would then handle the commands and work in the background as you keep working on that awesome logo. Normally you could do this simple process with Keyboard Maestro, but that means you have to be in the window you want to save and not do anything while you are waiting for the process to be over with.
By saying “in the background,” you can keep working on your project. This idea applies for just about any situation where you need to expedite your workflow. If you need to do some text expanding, just say what you need and it’ll be there. If developers work with Siri, apps like the ones mentioned above could be even more practical.
Wouldn’t it be great if you wake up in the morning ready to work on that next big article, school work or project and Siri is there ready to assist you from the get-go? While getting some coffee, you could tell Siri the following: “Siri, open Safari, Mail, Twitter and Skype. Open file X in Coda and Google image search ‘Twitter PNG Logo.'” When you are done with your breakfast or coffee, your computer is all ready for you to start working. You could even ask Siri to read your emails while you eat breakfast so you don’t waist time with distractions.
The Future of Siri
When I talk about Siri and the iPad, there are a few works of fiction that come to mind. Star Trek for instance. One day when I walked into an Apple Store after the iPad had released, the place was run buy people with iPads in hand checking for your Genius Bar appointment. I immediately thought: “I’m on the Enterprise.” Even restaurants today use iPods and iPads to get menu orders. There is no need for pencil and paper anymore, you can do that with your iPad and you can be certain that there will be an app for that.
With Siri, you can immediately relate it to a few Sci-Fi greats. KITT from Knight Rider (heck, Siri already sounds as cocky as KITT use to), Jarvis from Iron Man, and Computer from Star Trek The Next Generation, can all be compared to a future, more polished version of Siri — one that perhaps doesn’t depend on a constant connection to Apple Servers. Just picture yourself telling your Mac to call you “Captain.” Every time you forget to do something, Siri will say: “Captain, what should I name this saved file as?” Or “Tony, you have a meeting today at noon, should I cancel it?” Siri could ultimately grow to be as powerful as Jarvis or the computer on the Enterprise. It has much room to grow beyond the common reminder of appointments.
In The End
Siri today is in beta, so perhaps it won’t make it to the Mac just yet, and honestly that is fine, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t in the long run. Siri should be ported not only because it would be great and cool to have, but could ultimately help Apple sell more Macs. Perhaps Apple plans bringing Siri to OS X when an updated lineup of Macs are announced. They could even advertise them as the only computers that support Siri — much like they did with the iPhone 4S.
It would undoubtably be a great moment when you have the option to control all aspects of your computer with your voice. As always share your thoughts in the comments below.