Why it makes sense to expect Siri for the Mac

By Jonny Evans

Apple's [AAPL] Siri voice assistant technology is proving itself a game-changer. The company is hiring new engineers to develop its solution, so what improvements can we expect from the team? And when will we see Siri support inside OS X?


Siri: simplicity is complex

Siri already supports a dazzling range of queries, and while the 'Net seems weighed down by a plethora of reports exploring the sillier side of the tech, it's clear the solution is another game-changer, promising variously to revolutionize search, battering the Googleplex; holds a promise to transform the way we interact with television and more.

Apple recently began recruiting new engineers to join its Siri development teams, with ads announcing the new vacancies (here and here) clearly defining the team as at the cutting edge of the company's future plans.

The ads begin:

"Want to make the next big thing even bigger?

Want to do the impossible?

Want to be constantly challenged into accomplishing things you know are beyond your reach?"

As with all Apple's most advanced solutions, the Siri team is focused on simplicity -- the distillation of complex ideas into their essence. The ads promise that engineers will be required to focus on how content appears within the "conversational window" of the enquiries. That's rather more complex than it sounds, as this eventually extends (I think) to developing voice-based user interfaces for applications, not just apps.

The OS inside the OS

What could this mean? Well, Apple says Siri should be considered "an entire miniature OS within the OS..."

This implies that in future you'll be using Siri to control ever more of your apps on an iPhone. That's not rocket science, of course, but it bears thinking about. After all, once you've developed an effective voice-controlled way of interacting with your mobile apps, why stop there? Is there any reason why Siri shouldn't be extended to the Mac, becoming an alternative way of interacting with your computer, and your applications?

This makes some sense. There's reports in circulation claiming Apple plans a next-gen iMac equipped with Apple TV-like functions. Don't forget that many industry observers already expect Siri will be part of the UI for the company's much-speculated upon but still completely unconfirmed Apple television remote control interfaces.


Siri for iTunes?

This implies that part of the company's intent is to ensure that you can use Siri to control the way you interact with the media held on an Apple TV, and, by inference, could suggest a future plan to support Siri controls for those content-focused applications you use on your Mac: iPhoto and iTunes, for example.

Assistive technology users will very likely welcome such a move. After all, Nuance's Dragon software is already enormously popular, as are Apple's own Universal Access tools included within Mac OS.

Any move to furnish Macs with partial support for Siri as a means by which to control media on your PC surely opens new opportunities for wider implementation in future?

Here's some suggestions as to how support for Siri could be used if it were included within a future version of OS X -- don't forget, it isn't just about dictation -- it is intelligent:

"Computer, open Word and Mail, I'd like to email Sam the document I was working on at three O'clock last Tuesday afternoon. Can you arrange that email for me, I'd like to say, "Hi Sam, here's the document you requested for review, all the best, Jonny."

"Computer, could you open Safari and visit the BBC news website? I'd like you to read the headlines for each story, and read me the whole story if I ask for it, before returning to the headlines."
"Computer, I'd like you to download the new Skrillex album when it is released next year."
"Computer, I'd like for you to translate this message from English into Chinese for me, I'd like you to write the message into a Word document, save it and print it."
"Computer, at 3pm next Tuesday please could you launch Final Cut, open up the 'Robot X' project and open the audio controls for the fifth clip on  the Timeline."

Usage ideas like those above make me think it's logical to expect Siri will be part of the future user interface of all Apple hardware, most likely introduced within a major operating system update.

OS X 10.8?

Don't expect this to happen tomorrow. Siri remains in beta, is currently only available on the (also Unix-based) iOS devices and doesn't yet support all the world's languages. I think it unlikely we should expect more than early experiments of such support to appear on Macs for a year or so yet.

Apple seems keen to ensure its Mac operating system is as slim and lightweight as possible -- just think about the whittling down of legacy features which took place on the release of Snow Leopard.

Siri support for third party applications would certainly require Apple to create a developer framework enabling support for the tech inside their third-party applications.

I'll be interested to see if Apple talks about widening Siri support to third parties on the Mac platforms at WWDC 2012, potentially showing its use with its own applications, such as iTunes. There's no reason it needs to be WWDC 2012, of course, so don't get too excited, yet.

Siri speculation

All of this is speculation, of course, but I'm quite interested in what you think:

  • How might Siri be extended?
  • How might it be used on a Mac?
  • And, given Apple's growing app-driven place at the heart of the digital home, does Apple have a new opportunity in the general consumer electronics market introducing ranges of connected, voice-controlled devices for everyday domestic tasks?
  • Might Apple one day create an "AirControl" platform for white goods manufacturers enabling remote control of your household gadgets?
  • Even if Siri never makes it to the Mac, imagine how it could be used to control an iPhone nano...

Please share your thoughts, opinions and knee-jerk reactions in comments below.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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