Monday, October 31, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Don’t Miss the Significance of Siri

We’ve all probably heard the famous story of Steve Jobs taking his Apple engineering team to visit Xerox R&D labs to see the computer interface screen and the device they called a mouse that the Xerox scientist had developed for their computers. When the Apple folks got back to their offices, Jobs told them to throw out what they had been working on and create what the Xerox scientist had already created. Jobs instinctively knew this was the missing piece that would make the personal computer accessible to everyone. Of course, when Bill Gates at Microsoft saw the Apple user interface that Apple had created, he knocked it off and called it Windows and personal computer use skyrocketed.

Today’s Macs and PCs are still driven by these two fundamental easy-to-use technology features. But, as mobile has grown and the power and capabilities packed into smartphones has increased, the question of computing on smartphones needed to be answered. How do you replace the user interface screen and the mouse to accomplish all that we do on computers on the tiny smartphone? 

It turns out the answer is your voice and better access to the Cloud. When Apple (in early October) introduced the new iPhone 4S and simultaneously launched iCloud, even the tech journalist that routinely cover Apple product introductions missed the significance. Yes, these folks are journalists but they are first and foremost geeks. My workable definition of a “geek” is someone who can sit down with a brand new technology device and “mess-with-it” until they have all the hardware and software features figured out. These folks are linear thinkers, which is why they are so darn good at working through new products and problems created by people like me. They get intuitive progression. But pseudo-technological leaps . . . not so much.

We all know Steve Jobs was famously NOT a programmer or engineer. He was a user like you and me and most of the world. He knew what he wanted the technology to do.

So, as to be expected, when the iPhone 4S and iCloud were introduced, virtually all the geek journalists were disappointed. Remember, they were expecting iPhone 5 and all we got was 4 with an “S” behind it. They took a look at the new voice-controlled artificial-intelligence system called Siri on the iPhone 4S and shrugged. Their collective reaction was, “Cute, but where are the new hardware/software features that are the next leap forward?”

To be fair, a few of these technology journalists got it. But they were drowned out by the others in the press saying, “4S is not a real breakthrough.”

Huh? These geek journalists just blew it. Siri software is the breakthrough!

Look, you can’t connect a mouse to a mobile devise and I don’t know how your eyes are but reading a mobile screen is tough no matter what your age. But now with your voice and the voice controlled artificial-intelligence Siri software, you dictate a letter, email or text, you ask “Where can I get a cheeseburger?” or “What was Shakespeare’s best comedy?” or ask “What is the meaning of life?”  

And coupled with iCloud, the appointment or document you make on your iPhone is immediately updated on your iMac and iPad.

Everyone reading this blog was alive the day that Steve Jobs and his Apple engineering team came back from their famous trip to Xerox and created the machine that was to be the foundation for the personal computer revolution. We were alive that day but we didn’t know it happened and wouldn’t have understood its significance anyway. Siri software on the iPhone 4S is as big a breakthrough to personal computing on mobile today and soon to PCs as the mouse and the user interface was to the original Macs. But the difference is, today you know and understand how big.


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