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Siri - The iPhone 4S' Secret Weapon

written by: Austin•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 10/10/2011

Heard a lot about the iPhone 4S, but not quite sure what any of it means? One of the features you may have caught a glimpse of is "Siri", a true personal digital assistant -- but how does it work and what does it do? These simple questions and more are answered in this look at Siri.

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    2011: A Space Oddyssey

    When "2001: A Space Oddysey" came out in 1968, people thought that maybe, at the turn of the millenium, we would be seeing technology like what we saw in the film. While 2001 came and passed without many advancements in terms of tech, ten years later we're actually seeing the gadgets and things they used in the movie beginning to emerge, and no one is at the forefront of this new wave more than Apple.

    While they didn't announce their highly-anticipated iPhone 5 at the conference they held recently, we did hear about the iPhone 4S which comes with a few new features. The coolest of these features? A little guy/gal named Siri.

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    Siri: What is it? What is it trying to be?

    Screen shot 2011-10-07 at 6.59.18 PM Siri's basic function is pretty simple: Apple wanted to give your phone a voice. Someone you can talk to any time that can complete tasks for you, search the web, mark dates, remind of you of important events, and much, much more all at your command. Not your text command though -- no, this piece of genius functions entirely based on your voice commands, and it boasts technology that (supposedly) allows you to speak in your regular tone, with regular nuances and words, yet still get the exact results you want. No having to say something multiple times or follow weird sentence structures, and no having to adjust your tone or volume to compensate for the technology's follies.

    Ideally, should this technology catch on, it will revolutionize the idea of "hands free" operation, making this as simple and straightforward as technology can become. It will give you, quite literally, a personal digital assistant who can do pretty much anything the iPhone can do, all at the command of your voice.

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    Haven't We Had Voice Control Before?

    The way voice control has worked up until this point has been very, very limited. Take the "revolutionary" voice control present in some automobiles for example. If you want it to call someone, you have to follow the structure, which is usually something to the effect of:

    "Call [person's full name]."

    To find a restaurant or location?

    "Locate [type of location (food,residential,etc)] in [city or area]."

    Beyond that, you couldn't really stray and say something like "I'd really like a burger joint around here..." and have it recognize you. With Siri, however, that's all aiming to change. Many demos have shown people with all different sorts of vocal styles and words talking as they would to a normal person, setting up dates, planning events, locating restaurants -- everything you can do with your fingers on the iPhone, you can now do with voice commands. Will it work properly? The demos certainly look good and if it does, we could have a serious technological revolution on our hands.

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    Show Me Everything It Can Do

    Screen shot 2011-10-09 at 8.18.25 PM So far we've seen Siri handle a lot of different tasks, from sending texts to helping with cooking, but what is the limit to its power? Is there anything it can't do? Here's a list of what we've seen so far in demos and press releases:

    - Read incoming texts. Out for a walk, run, or just too busy to pick up your phone? Siri can alert you to texts and then read them out loud to you so you don't have to miss a beat.

    - Reply to texts, send texts. After you've heard the text you just got read out loud, why not reply to it entirely with voice commands? Just say what you want to send, say "Send", and it's off.

    - Play music on command. Need to change the song? Simply say "Play [Playlist/Artist/Song/Album]" and Siri will do it for you in a flash. No more navigating all those boring menus!

    - Check weather, traffic, etc. by city or location. Traveling abroad and need to know how the weather is where you're headed? Or maybe you just need to check the traffic before you head to work? Simply say "How's the weather look in [city]?" or "What's the traffic like in [city/place/highway]?". You can even say more nuanced commands such as "Is it going to be chilly today?".

    - Set timers. Doing some cooking and can't touch your phone to set the timer? Simply ask Siri to do it and you're good to go!

    - Search the web for information. One of the most powerful features is Siri's ability to search the web for knowledge on anything you may need to know -- movie showtimes, random trivia, or medical information. All of it's available in a snap (e.g. "How many ounces are in a cup?").

    - Create events and reminders. Don't want to miss the meeting next week? Just ask Siri to mark it down on the calendar and remind you later!

    - Crawl the surrounding area for specific buildings or building types. Looking for a great restaurant or hangout place? Don't worry about typing it all into Google Maps -- Siri will do it for you (i.e. "Any good Italian places around here?").

    Of course, chances are we'll see other things like launching applications and doing app-specific tasks, but there's a good possibility that such commands will need to be programmed in by the app developers themselves. For instance, you couldn't control the launch speed and angle of your birds in 'Angry Birds' using Siri's voice command. That is, unless the developer went in and added that functionality to the game themselves.

    Stay tuned for more on Siri here at Bright Hub. It is an iPhone 4S only feature and the iPhone 4S will be released on the 14th of October.

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