Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Siri's Impact in the Battle of the Smart Phones

The iPhone 4S and Siri
The recent launch of the 5th generation iPhone 4S has not generated the stir that its legendary predecessor has four years ago, but while it does not compare to the original iPhone on the number of revolutionary functions, the iPhone 4S has one function that is poised to change the face of mobile devics; Siri.

As a comprehensive virtual assistant that accompanies iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S, Siri has disappointed those expecting a bit more versatility. In terms of potential and design direction though, Siri actually is a revolutionary function that is poised to change the way phones are used, and this is why Siri is Apple’s biggest salvo across the bows of Google and Microsoft’s mobile aspirations.

Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
With consumer smart phone hardware quickly reaching parity, the competition between the mobile software giants has heated up. Google’s upcoming  Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”, and Apple’s iOS 5 all are seeking to redefine how we use our mobile devices, with each of the operating systems having their own unique user interface designs and functionality designed to put information users would care about front and center.

Google’s Android software has always had a reputation for having most potential in terms of functionality, so with “Ice Cream Sandwich” Google has designed a more transparent interface that would best take advantage of Android’s versatility and customizability. On the Microsoft side of the field, the recent Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update has improved on the already unique ‘Metro’ user interface, which emphasizes social networks by bringing them front and center on the grid-based user interface designs.

Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango"
On the face of it, Apple’s iOS 5's user interface looks a bit disappointing in comparison with the radically different designs the Google and Microsoft have taken. Many of the new functionalities in iOS 5 are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and in terms of interface design Apple has stuck with what has worked for them in the past. Instead of pursuing radical changes on the visual front, Apple is banking on Siri to change the user experience. 

Siri has amazed people not only because of how accurately it can parses speech, but also at how it combines web search, geo-location information and some of iOS 5’s basic functionalities together seamlessly. On any other smart phone, searching for nearest location that offers a service the user wants will probably require numerous button presses in different applications. With Siri on the iPhone 4s, the whole process takes only takes as long as it takes ask your question, and this is where Siri helps iOS 5 shine in the face of its competitors. 

While Google and Microsoft have developed user interfaces that bring information at the user’s fingertips, Apple has done away with the middleman and made it possible to get information and use some of the iPhone’s functionalities without even touching the screen. To be clear though, Apple’s iOS 5 is not the only system with voice-to-text capabilities, as Google’s “Ice Cream Sandwich” will have a similar function for text input, but Siri has capabilities that go beyond simple text dictation with its capability to follow certain voice commands and its cloud-based network.

Of course there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to each of the operating systems that I have not discussed and Siri does not make up for iOS 5’s disadvantages since it currently does not have access to all of the iPhone 4S’s functions. However, there is no doubt that Apple will build upon Siri. With the virtual assistant living in Apple’s cloud network there are also almost no limitations based on mobile hardware, so the horizon is literally the limit to Siri’s capabilities to redefine how smart phones are used.

Google’s “Ice Cream Sandwich” and Microsoft’s Windows 7.5 “Mango” definitely can be considered by some to be better designed for today’s smart phone user, but Siri is just a peek at the vision that the designers and engineers at Apple foresee for the future of mobile computing. How Apple’s competitors respond and where Apple will eventually take its voice-recognition software remains a matter of speculation, but there is no doubt that the ball is clearly in Apple’s court and this is their game to lose. 

Image credits to Brief Mobile, Smashing Tech, BSN, and Apple, Inc.

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