While many people are disappointed that Apple didn't release a redesigned version of its mobile device, the company's artificial intelligence feature Siri -- which is only available on the new iPhone 4S -- is so exceptional that it may convince those on the fence about upgrading their Apple smartphone to make the switch to the iPhone 4S.
Siri can be likened to a personal assistant. It lets users speak to their device and automatically deciphers their requests. Siri can be used to write and send a text, find a restaurant, tell you what the weather will be like, play music, make appointments, find directions and set location-based reminders.
"Siri understands context allowing you to speak naturally when you ask it questions, for example, if you ask 'Will I need an umbrella this weekend?' it understands you are looking for a weather forecast," explains Apple.
"Siri is also smart about using the personal information you allow it to access," adds Apple, "for example, if you tell Siri 'Remind me to call Mom when I get home,' it can find 'Mom' in your address book, or ask Siri 'What's the traffic like around here?' and it can figure out where 'here' is based on your current location."
Apple's marketing executive Phil Schiller calls Siri "the coolest feature of the iPhone 4S."
Speech control is tipped to become the must-have feature on next-generation smartphones and Google, Microsoft and Apple are all joining the "smartphone as personal assistant" race.
Google Android users can already control their device using the company's Voice Actions but the feature is currently limited to a few specific commands.
Just months ago Microsoft revealed that it was improving its Windows Phone 7 speech technology in the hopes of gaining further market share in the smartphone market.
In August Microsoft senior director of speech marketing, sales and solutions told Gigaom that in the future smartphone operating systems would move beyond touch interfaces "to deeply integrated speech."
"If you look at the success of the iPhone, it was about the usability it brought to the screen and touch experience and that resonated," said Bukshteyn. "We're now hitting another inflection point where speech is going to matter just as much. Moving forward, having some sort of speech natural user interface does become something users expect. And how well you do it will determine what sells and what doesn't."
Siri has given Apple the upper hand in the race (for the time being at least) as it is deeply integrated into the iPhone 4S's software and can process natural language requests. Siri is also integrated with Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and Yelp so it can be used to search for information, to compute calculations (what's my carbon footprint driving 536 miles at 32mpg?) or to find a well-reviewed restaurant that serves sushi.
Interestingly, Apple predicted future generations would be using touchscreen devices with Siri-like AI and speech recognition features in 2011 in a video they created 24 years ago. According to Gizmodo they "were off in their prediction by only 18 days. Wow."
Apple has released a video showcasing how Siri works on the iPhone 4S. CNET has also released a video of Apple's Scott Forstall introducing Siri during Apple's October 4 "Let's talk iPhone" event.
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