Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple's Siri Generates Its Own Press

There's a developing ecosystem of content revolving around purported social interaction with Apple's virtual assistant Siri. As an example, the Jaded Consumer offers this song, in which Apple's product is sampled to perform a "duet" based on actual answers Siri will give to queries that attempt to treat Siri as an intelligent being.

The page has links.

When OS/2 Warp v. 4 offered "voice control" it didn't get anything like this response. IBM's solution was billed as offering recognition of a command dictionary directed at programs' predefined instructions, not a tool to make sense of things humans would say. Reaction to Siri suggests that this difference means something to people.

Apple is still able to get people to market Apple's products with resources far outstripping those Apple itself invests.


angry listmaker said...

i have yet to see siri do something that my android phone can't very closely replicate with a voice search into google. I'm sure siri is awesome somehow but everytime my friend with his iphone asks siri a question, i speak the same question into google. Of course, sometimes I phrase it so it's easier for a search engine to understand but how hard is that? anyway, our results rarely differ significantly. So tell me, what does siri really do that makes it a game changer? funny answers about love, marriage or singing songs don't count as game changers.

Jaded Consumer said...


I don't think I've claimed anything yet other than (a) voice commands have been around as a default feature of consumer-directed operating systems since at least as early as the launch of OS/2 Warp v.4, and (b) people have been making videos the humor of which turns on the silliness of treating Siri as an intelligent being. The genius of Apple wasn't developing Siri (which they in fact bought), but in marketing it in such a way that other people are now giving Apple a lot of press over the feature.

The fact that Apple has managed to get other people to give Apple press for free is rather an interesting phenomenon, which I expect is particularly of interest to those who make a career in branding. The value isn't the songs – its the achievement of making people want to make and hear the songs.

I'm unaware of the extent to which Siri is a "game changer" in terms of its technology. However, Apple's innovation has frequently run toward making widely-available things easier to use, and if Apple turns out to have made voice interaction sufficiently easy that it changes how people relate to their phones, Apple may have changed somebody's game.

Apple is certainly changing its own game, though. Siri steers iOS users toward using Siri rather than Google as their interface for information. Previously, Apple customers were fed Google for search, Google Maps for directions, etc. Siri's high-profile move to replace a Google search box with an Apple-curated interface moves Apple closer to direct competition with Google. Google has overtly declared that its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." The effort of Apple to use Siri to steer users elsewhere collides with Google's vision of being the "universally" accessed means of accessing information.

I don't see Apple using Siri solely as a UI. I believe that Apple's enormous data center developments are infrastructure investments in the data-access business, which is (as Google has exposed) inextricably intertwined with the advertising business in the online world. Apple's ad business hasn't moved the needle on Apple's revenues, but as devices get cheaper and access increases, collecting smaller sums from an order of magnitude more users could be part of Apple's vision for future growth. Apple's other acquisitions suggest that Apple is moving toward non-entertainment content and into further collision with Google.

After all, it's difficult to imagine multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments without a monetization plan. And honestly, streaming music sync just isn't a killer app and everybody at Apple has to know it. The datacenter isn't for music and movies only. Apple is broadening its concept of providing an interface to content. Whether Apple's success shocks naysayers will be the test of whether Apple's information access scheme is a game-changer (rather than only Apple's marketing genius, which I submit has changed Apple dramatically from where it had been prior to 1998).