'Siri, I have some some suggestions for you'

Apple's voice-controlled personal assistant could be better; here's how.

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For example, when a calendar notification arrives, Siri could say, "Your boss just sent a meeting invitation for next Wednesday. You have nothing scheduled for that time. Would you like me to create an appointment for you?"

Or in another case, the conversation could go like this: Siri: "Mike, you have an email from Jack about the recent Mac you fixed for him."

Me: "Thanks. Remind me to call him when I get home."

If Apple were to take that route, it should include the ability to turn off chatty Siri for those who don't want to be bothered with extra information. That way, I could respond: "Not now, Siri; don't interrupt my music for this trip."

With a more proactive Siri in Hands-Free mode, she could follow up requests with, "Can I help you with anything else?" That would be an opportunity to continue with another command. Or Siri could be dismissed with a "No, thank you."

When I work from home, I have the luxury of being in a quiet environment. That's when having an active listening mode for Siri would be appreciated. If the iPhone could respond when Siri's name is called, that would be helpful in many situations, especially if you're like me and people only try to communicate with you after you jump in the shower.

Apple would be smart to roll out a universal translator, like one shown on The Verge; it should add the ability to search the App Store ("Siri, what are the top 10 apps for iPhone?"; "Siri, tell me about the best adventure game for iPad"); and it could offer personality packs (unlikely, given that consistency is part of Apple's brand, but the Iron Man JARVIS personality or Star Trek computer voice packs would surely be a hit).

Where to, now?

Don't get me wrong, I'm still very positive about Siri; time spent in my car is no longer wasted as I can still be productive using the Hands-Free system while dictating notes, reminders and messages. The countless taps I can now avoid with voice controls insure that I use Siri all the time. There are some areas where Siri could use a next step or two, but I can't recall an interaction method as pleasing or engaging as when Siri is working properly.

Whenever Apple focuses on a specific technology, rivals offer up similar efforts to stay competitive. The result is a technological tide that raises all boats and benefits everyone. Obviously, Siri's capabilities will continue to grow; in a few years, I expect we'll look back at its early limitations and marvel at how far it has come.

I also think it's inevitable that as Siri becomes more reliable, it will find its way across the whole of Apple's product lines (especially given its clear usefulness as an aid to accessibility). That means Siri will eventually turn up on Apple's computers and, of course, the iPad.

For now, though, we'll have to wait for the technology to mature.

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter (@mdeagonia).

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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