Apple Buys Siri, a Small Victory in Mobile Web War with Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-28

Apple has acquired startup Siri, whose virtual personal assistant application lets users of the Apple iPhone 3GS book restaurant tables, buy movie tickets and perform several other tasks all by speaking into their device.

Blogger Robert Scoble unearthed the buy from this April 27 filing with the Federal Trade Commission, which provides no additional information beyond confirming the transaction.

Apple did not comment on the buy, which marks a small coup for the computer maker as it fends off Google, Nokia and others in the arms race for applications that provide consumers with valuable mobile Web resources.

Siri co-founder and board member Norman Winarsky said Apple got a "great company" and that "we're very happy with the transaction."

Winarsky, who leads licensing and strategic programs for Stanford Research Institute (SRI), which nurtured and spun out Siri, declined to provide additional details.

Siri launched its first Siri app into Apple's App Store in February. The Siri app is similar to Google's Search by voice feature, but the integration with several Web services makes the service infinitely more valuable.

Siri takes into account users' locations to direct them to local services, and the application picks up information and "remembers" it for context about that user. The information is then applied to other Web services Siri supports.

The app works with specific Web services users are accustomed to accessing from their iPhones, such as information on restaurants, movies and businesses.

During a demo for eWEEK, Siri co-founder and CEO Dag 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."

To make this happen, Siri called OpenTable (one of the 40 or so Web services Siri supports), checked for available seating at a restaurant and verified it with Kittlaus, who then booked the table with a single click.

See a video of Siri in action here.

Kittlaus told eWEEK Siri aimed to make the app available on smartphones based on Google's Android and Research In Motion's platform in the coming months. He also said Siri planned to open up the Siri platform to let developers build add-ons and other extensions to make the application more useful.

Given Apple's approach of keeping everything regarding its applications and platforms in-house, it is doubtful Siri will ever grace Android or BlackBerry. Any third-party development would be under Apple's strict direction.

"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.

So, apparently, does Apple. Apple CEO Steve Jobs earlier this month all but said search on mobile devices was dead, noting:

"Search is not where it's at; people aren't searching on a mobile device like they do on a desktop. What's happening is they're spending all of their time in apps."

Now Apple has a native iPhone app in Siri to reinforce Jobs' conviction.

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