iPhone 4S – A glimpse into the future

Yesterday, Tim Cook introduced the world to a new and improved iPhone 4S. It’s been met with luke warm reviews and many jokes about how little it has been improved. I think most of the industry is wrong and here’s why: Siri.

Siri was first an artificial intelligence company – founded in late 2007 – that aimed to integrate all of the worlds API’s into a nice clean interface. It was well funded and it developed an awesome natural language interpreter that tech bloggers displayed some fanaticism over when it was revealed to the world. Then a few months later it was snapped up by Apple (April 2010) and has been largely silent – until now.

It turns out that people like Robert Scoble weren’t wrong. In fact Siri is an amazing technology. Not unlike the recent changes to the mouse navigation in OS X Lion, Apple is showing us the future of how we interact with machines in general. Users of other handsets, such as Andriod, can argue that Apple didn’t pioneer this concept – and they’re right – but Apple perfected it. Besides, this is really all very Star Trek, “Computer Siri, what is the weather in Cupertino?” However, unlike television fiction, this is real – and it’s here now.

Scheduling meetings, finding the weather and those sorts of applications are a great start. What’s truly amazing will be when it replaces the keyboard & mouse entirely. Okay, I know that’s a little extreme, but is it really so hard to imagine? Apple has been working on killing the mouse already – promoting an external touchpad Magic Trackpad getting us all comfortable with multi-touch gesturing. Why couldn’t some future version of Apple’s desktop OS have Siri baked right in? “Siri, send a screenshot to Tom” and our faithful digital assistant just does it, snapping the current screen and sending it to Tom. Siri might even ask me if we want to provide any more to the message first. This is hardly pushing the limits of what Apple demoed yesterday.

So, while much of the tech media continues to discuss whether A5 Dual Core processors, 8 mega-pixel cameras, and small screens make the iPhone 4S underwhelming for consumers, remember the star of yesterday’s show wasn’t hardware, it was a software assistant named Siri. The real change is supplementing multi-touch interfaces with voice, further reducing our dependency on pointer devices and keyboards – virtual and physical. In 2007, Apple showed us the joys of touch interfaces. They weren’t the first, they were just the first to do it well. Likewise they’re not first with voice, they’re just the first to do it well and Apple has shown us a glimpse into the future of computing.

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