Speech Technology Magazine

The Siri Effect

How mobile applications have been changed forever.
By Craig Bassin - Posted Dec 19, 2011
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So, here was the world we lived in until September 2011: iPhones, Androids, and Blackberrys were the primary mobile smartphones. Everyone was scurrying to download Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and Pandora. We had our social network in place, our tunes loaded up, and our pictures, email contacts, and just about anything else you could imagine accessible in some format. Many leading-edge companies had deployed mobile apps, and they worked reasonably well. The limitations, of course were that you interfaced with the app exactly as you would on your desktop computer. 

But a smartphone is NOT a desktop computer. It's designed to be mobile. So why would you design the interface to be the same? Click on the app, try to scroll or navigate through the dashboard, pinch or expand until you can read the thing. It wasn't perfect, but it certainly was better than nothing.

Siri is changing all that now, but it is also a catalyst to a larger computing movement. Siri instantly became the symbol for mobile paradigm shift. Actually, more than that, make it a complete paradigm shift in the way people interact with computers. Just as important as the technology is the fact that Siri will be shipped to hundreds of millions of consumers who will embrace the natural language interface. As consumers embrace Siri on mobile devices, they will expect and demand the same easy-to-use interface in their business applications. This is what industry analyst firm Gartner calls the "consumerization of IT."

Yes, there have been dictation products on the market for a while, allowing you to press a button, dictate your text or email, send, and done. But Siri goes beyond what you have seen on a smartphone before: It understands the intent of the question. Why? Because there's a natural language engine embedded within Siri. 

IBM educated us all about natural language with its Watson launch. We were all amazed when IBM's Watson won on "Jeopardy!" And we might see what Watson can do when applied to large problems, like healthcare. But Watson ran on a network of computers that could run the Starship Enterprise. Siri sits in the very palm of your hand, using the multitude of services available on the Internet.

With Apple Siri on every iPhone or iPad, and eventually on your computers, everyone will reap the benefits of voice recognition on top of natural language. It will become the standard way we all communicate with our computers, tablets, smartphones, and more—interactively, intelligently, naturally. Ask your question exactly as you would to a live human being and you'll get what you asked for. This is the advantage of natural language. This is the paradigm shift.

But how does this apply to the business world? It will become mandatory that applications become intuitive. The technology and advantages that Siri provides for mobile functionality, texts, email, and maps will be applied to commercial apps. Because of Siri, the user interface for business applications will now revolve around one thing: the SEARCH BOX. Much like the Google home page, the user interface will be simple. But unlike Google, this next generation of user interfaces will have natural language technology behind them. 

I fully expect that, over time, Apple will open up the Siri API to the developer community. That will provide an intuitive, intelligent front end for apps, providing voice recognition, natural language front ends. End users will no longer have to click their way through navigation on an e-commerce site or suffer through pull-down windows on a smartphone. They'll be able to speak to their app exactly as they would speak to their vice president of sales or chief financial officer. 

Best of all, they'll be able to do all of this without crashing their cars! One button, ask and you shall receive. Sounds like a panacea?  It's here, and it's here today. Paradigm shift, indeed. 


Craig Bassin is the CEO of EasyAsk, a software company that provides a natural language interface for e-commerce, business intelligence, and other applications.

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