MIT Technology Review

Friday, June 08, 2012

Siri Strikes Out for the iPad

But is it too soon for the beta product?

The blogs have been whirring with speculation that Siri will come soon to the iPad. It all began with a 9to5Mac report to this effect. The site’s sources say one of the “tentpole features” of iOS 6 will be Siri support for iPad. Due to the iPad’s larger display, Siri for iPad wouldn’t need to take up the full screen. Rather, you’d hold the home screen (much as on your iPhone 4S), and the Siri interface would slide up from the bottom of the screen. The experience would be overlaid on top of whatever you were already doing on your iPad. Multiple sources (you guessed it--unnamed!) say that Siri-on-iPad would likely only be for the newer Retina Display models.

A question remains, however. Is the iPad the proper place for Siri? The iPhone is, after all, a phone. We are meant to speak into it. It is rarely in our lap, unlike the iPad, and so its microphone tends to be closer to our mouths. For a number of reasons, the iPhone seems like a logical place to keep Siri, for now, while the experience is perfected. (A Brooklyn man recently launched a class-action lawsuit over the fact that he felt Siri, despite being touted as a beta product, didn’t function as advertised.) As Bloomberg Businessweek says in a report yesterday about those ubiquitous Siri-and-celebrity commercials, the ads have fared poorly among viewers, “in part because the actors’ experience with Siri is laughably different from real-life uses of the imperfect technology.”

Siri has an impressive pedigree; years of DARPA research undergird her artificial intelligence, and a humorous touch softens and humanizes the mechanical nature of her voice. As Will Knight recently pointed out in these pages, we are at an inflection point, where voice recognition technology is poised to branch out to other devices, including TVs and cars. Siri is at the forefront of that movement, its spokesperson, so to speak.

Undoubtedly, talking to ourselves, and our various appliances, is a certainty for the not-too-distant future. The questions is, just how not-too-distant? Siri is a successful product, but she’s also an evolving product, and one whose user-satisfaction levels, while impressive at first glance, don’t necessarily amount to a home run. About 50% of users say they’re “very satisfied” with Siri--that’s pretty good. But another 21% feel merely “satisfied,” and others aren’t much impressed with her at all--even if they’re not planning to sue her. Siri is popular for some functions--like making calls and sending texts--but not others. “[U]sers aren’t proving adventurous with their usage,” the WSJ recently noted. The product still exists in a sort of limbo on the iPhone, and remains officially in beta--so why turn to the iPad so soon?

Hobnobbing with the likes Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel, and now wanting to conquer new platforms, is Siri getting too big for her own britches? Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting a career as a rock star. Oh, wait.