Apple's Siri personal assistant a driving force in selling iPhone 4SApple's sales records in selling the new iPhone 4S, accompanied by record launch figures announced by AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, is largely attributable to its signature Siri feature for natural voice processing, an analyst notes.
Shaw Wu of Sterne Agee wrote in a note to investors that "despite global macroeconomic headwinds, Apple continues to defy conventional wisdom with a higher-end product mix," adding that in talking to industry sources, whats driving the 4S is better than expected reception of its new Siri software.
Many pundits and some initial reviews of the iPhone 4S failed to see the attraction of Siri, hoping instead to jump on the bandwagon of criticism focusing on the "disappointment" that the latest iPhone wouldn't be named "iPhone 5."
Others confused Siri with simple voice recognition features already incorporated into Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, and which are already available for iOS and other mobile platforms via third party apps.
Andy Rubin, the head of Android development at Google, insisted that he doesn't "believe that your phone should be an assistant" like Siri, while Microsoft's Andy Lees of WP7 was quick to say he didn't think the new service was "super useful," indicating his company would avoid having its users speak commands to their phones in public.
But it's selling iPhone 4S
However, Wu notes that Siri isn't just Apple's take on voice recognition. "What makes Siri unique and different is that its voice recognition works well (unlike competing solutions which are unreliable) and also offers artificial intelligence (AI) in helping interpret user commands and answer questions.
Wu reiterated a Buy rating for Apple and forecast sales of 26 million iPhones in the fourth calendar quarter.
Siri works as both a natural voice interface for navigating and editing local information, such as calendar, contacts, reminders, notes and emails, as well as an assistant interface for searching the web via conventional search engines (including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing) or specialized web services such as Yelp local search, Yahoo Weather and Stocks, or Wolfram Alpha.
As a natural voice assistant, Siri can be expanded by Apple to provide access to new types of web services, as its ability to interact with new apps, including Apple's Find My Friends, suggests that iOS will eventually enable users to use Siri to interact with third party apps, beyond the voice recognition that already works in many apps that use standard keyboard input.
While Siri requires a data connection to work, tests monitoring the amount of data Siri uses to provide its results indicate that the service uses very little data per request.
Apple's Siri is exclusive to the iPhone 4S, although hacks indicate it could work on earlier iPhone 4 models, iPod touch, and iPads, although its performance appears to be optimized for the A5 chip released this year. Apple may also eventually bring a form of the service to Mac OS X users.
Apple says the new service is regarded as being in "beta," and currently understands American, Australian and UK English, as well as French and German. Apple has promised that Siri will gain support for additional languages in 2012 including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian and Spanish.