Review of the Apple iPhone 4S

» Posted by on Dec 16, 2011 in Marketing | 0 comments

Review of the Apple iPhone 4S

Or, My First Date with Siri

by Harry

After my Droid X finally gave up the ghost, and all of my efforts to resuscitate it proved to be unsuccessful, I was in the market for a new smart phone.  My wife is a passionate fan of the Apple iPhone (I am not sure who would get saved in a fire first, me or the phone; but I choose not to think about that) and after noticing that most adults that I work with have them, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a bright shiny Apple iphone 4s.

The packing is beautiful, sort of a technology version of Tiffanys.  The phone itself is well made, with great attention to fit and finish: high quality and a delight to hold.

There are scores of smartphones on the market today, some of which are better, faster, and stronger than the iPhone current iteration.  However, one thing that they haven’t got that I now do is the services of Siri.

What is Siri and where did it come from?  Siri has a impressive pedigree with roots in natural languge interface going back decades (see Wikipedia for more information on Siri’s family tree.)

Originally designed to run on any platform, since purchased by Apple Siri has been integrated into iOS and shipped it with the most recent upgrade of the the iphone 4, which, with other enhancements, became the Apple iPhone 4s.

Siri takes your spoken words, and converts them to the best of her ability. (Although they never say, I am sure that Siri is a woman: my wife tells me men just don’t listen that well.  I will hereafter refer to Siri as “she.”)  The resulting search can include information from your phone, your location, or from other sources on the web.

Phone Numbers and Texting

Let’s start with an easy one. If you ask Siri to “phone home,” she will look into your contact list and as long as you have “home” as one of your contacts, will pull up the number and activate the phone with your home number. In general, Siri is good with phone numbers in your contact list.

However, Siri gets confused is you ask about something outside of your contact list.  She seems to have a local bias for things that I have yet to fully figure out.  For example, if you ask “What is the number for the White House?” Siri gets confused, asking for your location and trying to find local matches.  If you ask “What is the phone number for the White House in Washington DC?” Siri does better and brings up an accurate web search.

Siri is also very good for hands free use of your phone.  You can put in a series of requests to Siri like “text”, and she will ask who you want to text.  When you speak out the text, Siri will convert it and then ask you if you wish to send.  Pretty cool, and very good for hands free texting while driving or preoccupied doing other things.

General Information

If you ask Siri, “Who was William Shakespeare?” she will first show you the converted text and then give you a on-screen printed summary of the bard including photograph.  Pretty cool, but Siri is not as good for something more complex, like “Who wrote the line ‘How do I love thee let me count the ways?’” and comes up with some really wacky things that are not particularly helpful.  (It was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, by the way.)

If Siri can’t figure it out for herself, she converts what she thinks that you said, and will give you the option of a web search (which she offered to do when I asked: “How many plays did William Shakespeare write?”)

Sometimes Siri is just plain wrong.  For example, when asked “Who was Craig Rice?” she guessed wrong and showed me the percentage of people with the name of Craig and Rice and their ethnic breakdown. Interesting but not what I was looking for.

However, Siri does well with easier things like “How do I spell ‘which?’” or, “At what temperature does water boil?” and other basic facts.

Lists and Reminders

Siri is almost as good as a spouse for reminders.  If you ask: “Siri, please remind me to go grocery shopping today at 3 pm” she converts it correctly, confirms back, and puts a reminder in your iPhone.

Time and Distance

One of Siri’s strengths is integration with GPS functionality.  If asked, “How far am I from Providence?” Siri will provide both distance and directions.  She can also answer things like “What time is it in San Francisco?”  A question like “I’m hungry, where can I eat?” will bring up a cool location based search of eateries in your surrounding location.

Summary

After my first date with Siri, here are my first impressions.  Siri is the latest in a long line of natural language interfaces which has been converted in a thoughtful way to a very mobile device. It does have uses: the hands-free feature of calling and texting are probably worth it even if you never used anything else.  Ditto on the GPS and mapping features.

General searches were more spotty.  It could not, as of today, replace Google.  For example, if you ask Siri to “show me a picture of a turkey,” the results are not as effective as simply typing “turkey” into Google images.

If you carry the analogy of a personal assistant forward, Siri would be a not too bright but helpful and attentive helper.  Siri knows what she knows and will guess to the best of her ability what she does not.  That is probably as much as you can expect from a first phase integration of natural language interface and a cell phone.

Like going on blind date, you might find Siri to be a worthy companion if you did not ask too much and were willing to be patient.  Not so different from most of us, and if I were not so fortunate as to have married my wife I might ask Siri out for a second date.

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