Siri: The Real Killer App

When the iPhone 4S was released, there was a collective groan from tech pundits everywhere saying, “That’s it?” Everyone wanted something different from Apple, including a new design (something I’m guilty of myself), but what came with the 4S was a feature named Siri that we all thought was pretty neat, but not really a game changer.

Thing is, it really is a reason to buy the iPhone 4S, as me and thousands of others have found over the past few months. But don’t take my word for it — a recent study shows that iPhone 4S owners use twice as much data as previous generation iPhone owners, and the only reason can be Siri. What’s all the hype about? Let’s find out why after the jump.

Voice Control

Although it wasn’t a popular feature, previous generations of the iPhone offered Voice Control, a Siri-esque option that worked sometimes and allowed you voice dial and things like that. It worked, but again, not that well, and wasn’t very versatile, either. Still, I was a user, and I found Voice Control to come in handy when I had to make a phone call while driving or just didn’t want to flip through my seemingly endless contact book.

When Siri came out, I figured I’d try it out, but it just didn’t seem that magical right out of the gate. I think that’s one of the things about Siri that lots of people don’t really understand; you don’t know how convenient it is until you discover all of the opportunities.

The Average Day

For example, today I was working on an article for this site, then I had to go pick up my son at daycare. Since it was a nice day, I plugged in a set of headphones into my 4S and hopped on my bike with a toddler trailer attached, ready to take him for a ride. But before I left, I remembered that I needed to water the plants, which I usually do by setting a hose on this slope in the yard and letting it run in a trickle for about an hour. I hold down the home button and say to Siri, “Set a timer for 45 minutes.” Done.

Well that's weird, I'm in the mood for Italian food, too.

Well that's weird, I'm in the mood for Italian food, too.

As I started off, I held down the mic button on the headphones and said, “Play Death Certificate,” and next thing I knew, the 1991 Ice Cube classic was playing in my headphones. Halfway there, I realized that my wife might be on the way herself, so I asked Siri to “Find my wife,” a cue to open up Find My Friends. Turns out she was miles away, so I was good.

I’m turning into the daycare center and remember that I have to grab some tools out of the garage before I head out tomorrow, but I knew I was going to forget. “Set a reminder for 9 pm tonight.” Siri comes back with, “What would you like it to say?” to which I respond, “Grab the tools out of the garage before you go out tomorrow.” Bam — reminder set.

Off on the road with my son now, volume on the headset turned way down so I can hear him if he needs anything, I decide to give my folks a ring to see if we had dinner plans still. “Call my mother on her cell,” and of course, Siri makes that happen. After the call I made a Calendar appointment, and then continued my bike ride.

I did all this while riding a bike down the road, no problem at all.

App Integration

Although there isn’t yet any way to integrate Siri fully into developer’s apps (at least not that I know of), there are some smart people out there who have figured out ways to work with the system.

Remind me again why I didn't get a white one?

Remind me again why I didn't get a white one?

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about OmniFocus and Siri, and how they can work together via iCloud. If they can figure out how to navigate the system, then maybe other people can as well. And if Apple does open up Siri to new commands from other apps, well that’s going to be huge. Frankly, I think we can consider that an inevitability, and should come out in iOS 6.

But Wait, There’s More!

Now you may not think that Siri as an app is useful in itself, but how about its stealthy cousin, text dictation? Just pull up any keyboard on an iPhone 4S and you’ll see a little microphone to the left of the keyboard, taunting you to use it. For me, this comes in really handy with sending texts. I can say a whole paragraph faster than I can type it on the iPhone’s keyboard, and I can even do it using the headphones on a bike ride, like I was earlier today.

Dictation is a funny word.

Dictation is a funny word.

I do this same thing with emails at times. Again, I just pull up the on-screen keyboard, hit the mic and rattle off whatever I need to send. Facebook updates, Twitter posts — they all can be done by talking, and with as much typing as I do in a day, every little bit helps.

Final Thoughts

Not everyone thinks Siri is the greatest thing ever, and yes, it was a bit of a letdown to find out that it was the big thing that Apple put into the 4S. But now that it’s been out there for a bit and I’ve been playing with it more and more, I really do think it’s enough of a selling point to actually drive the purchase home. My wife has a perfectly functional iPhone 4, and she wants a 4S not for the better camera or larger storage options, but purely for Siri because it would let her be more productive.

When an app makes you do things more efficiently and costs nothing, I think that’s as big a win as you’re ever going to get.