Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Siri, a New User Interface?

Apple's newly iPhone 4S has a new UI, Siri. Basically, it is a nature language based virtual assistant application. What it accepts is a question or request. Behind sense, it has linguistic analysis system to figure out the request, and provides an answer or proposed action.

Natural language conversatiotn between human and computer has been in scientific fiction or future system.  Most people or developers still accept traditional ways as a channel communicate with computer, keyboard, mouse, and touch interface as from iOS. By using language as a channel, it has been in imagination until Siri.

Apple says that the current Siri is beta version and it is true.  Based on the experiment of most people, it has limited features. However, it is a fascinate feature.  Based on a question or request, in less than 10 seconds, the input would be transferred to a web service, where the input would be analyzed and an answer or proposed action is returned. The input and out are all in voice base.  The integration with OS makes it possible to provide either voiced respond, visual result, or suggestion, or action.

I think Siri does create a new way to communicate with computer. Traditional inputs like keyboard, mouse and touch interfaces do have their limits.  For example, when you have hundreds of apps in iPhone or iPad, it would be very difficult to find or use them.  Spotlight feature on iOS does provide a convenient way to find them. Just image, if you communicated with computer OS to issue questions, suggestions and commands in natural language, it would create an abstract way to explore OS and control applications.  Apple is the pioneer in this area, but we will see similar innovations following up soon.

Right now, Siri's platform is still in a black box.  I think that by the time of next year WWDC, more detail information and API support will be available. It will be very interesting to see if it is possible to provide application level support for Siri. By that time, we should be able to see wide extension of Siri usages.