Siri Is a Serious Virtual Assistant for Your iPhone

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-02-05

Siri Feb. 5 said its artificial intelligence application that lets users ask their phones to complete e-commerce transactions and other tasks is now available on Apple's iPhone 3GS smartphone.

Siri is piece of software that lets users speak a question into a mobile phone, get an answer and then trigger additional actions. Available for download free from Apple's App Store today, the application will be available on smartphones based on Google's Android and Research In Motion's platform in the coming months.

On the surface, Siri's technology recalls speech recognition technologies Google uses for its search by voice feature, or speech input technologies for smartphones based on Android. Dig a little deeper and it's clear there is more to Siri than basic speech recognition and search.

Siri co-founder and CEO Dag Kittlaus told eWEEK Siri currently works with specific Web services users are accustomed to accessing from their iPhones, such as information on restaurants, movies, events, weather and businesses.

For example, Kittlaus opened the Siri app, clicked the "Say It" button and told Siri, "Find a fancy French restaurant for two people tomorrow night in San Francisco." Siri, which uses speech recognition technology from Nuance Technologies, calls out to Web services to find options that meet the iPhone user's request.

In the French restaurant example, Siri called OpenTable, checked for available seating at a restaurant and verified it with Kittlaus, who could then book the table with a single click.

Siri is smart, requesting additional information when a user fails to provide enough to enable it to complete the task. When Kittlaus asked a variation of his restaurant request without saying how many people were in his party, Siri engaged him in a chat session, asking how many seats he required the reservation for. Once Kittlaus replied, "Two," Siri completed its task, booking the table.

In another query, Kittlaus asked Siri to "Send a taxi to my house at 5 p.m." Siri called out to Taxi Magic, the OpenTable of taxi services. If Siri can't find taxi coverage on Taxi Magic for the user, Siri provides phone numbers for other taxi services closer to the user.

Siri takes into account users' locations, pointing them to local services. Moreover, once users set up their accounts and begin using Siri, the application picks up information and "remembers" it for context about that user. The information is then applied to other Web services Siri supports. Users may control what info Siri makes use of about them and may set preferences to "teach" the application about their tastes for future use.

Siri is not a Web application. Kittlaus said Siri devised the application to be native to the iPhone because it relies on the device's GPS information and user context. Adam Cheyer, Siri co-founder and vice president of engineering, told eWEEK Siri uses JavaScript and AJAX in the browser.

Cheyer also said while Version 1 only has 35 to 40 services, the plan is to add new services and functionality before eventually opening up the Siri platform to let developers work with it, building add-ons and other extensions to make the application more useful.

"Search is a great tool and everyone uses it, but what we're doing isn't designed to replace what search does for people. It's definitely a next-generation paradigm that we think will be widely adopted within five years by us and by others," Kittlaus said.

He may well be right. If that is the case, eWEEK fully expects Apple, Google or some other company looking for an advantage in the location-based mobile software market to make a play for Siri. 

See a Siri demo on Google Watch here.

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