Siri is the best known digital personal assistant on the market, making its name with human-esque speech capabilities. Its biggest competitor, Google Now, may be lagging behind in the popularity stakes, but it’s rapidly gaining ground and Apple needs to keep ahead.
Google’s release of the Experience launcher on the Nexus 5 has meant that Google Now features very heavily in Android. It is pushing to learn more about you and become far more relevant, and is doing a good job (if you invest in Google’s app ecosystem).
- 10 ways to improve Google Now
Apple’s first go at Siri certainly wasn’t right first time, so there are a lot of things that it could, and should, change in its quest to become the ultimate digital PA. Luckily, we got out a whiteboard, drank a lot of energy drinks, and had (quite possibly) the world’s best brainstorm:
1. Offline Mode
One of the biggest problems that faces the modern digital assistant is its need to be connected to the internet. Being used on many different devices, including Wi-Fi only versions of the iPad range, means Siri should be able to function without a web connection for some tasks.
We use Siri to make appointments in our calendar and search our iDevice, things that should not require a connection to Apple’s servers. Going abroad we take our gadgets, but we don’t want to get hit with extortionate roaming charge so an offline function would be greatly beneficial.
Of course an offline mode would require more data to be stored on our iPhone, iPad or iPod, so there should also be an option to opt in/out of this feature.
Anyone who has picked themselves up a 64GB or 128GB iDevice can probably fit offline mode in already, and for those with smaller storage option it might even provide incentive to buy larger storage devices in the future.
Our favourite idea is to create downloadable packs so users can pick and choose what content and functions they want to have offline. Creating foreign packs so users can translate text and currency when we go away, or for when we’re near our data limits, would also be useful.
2. Increase language support
Siri has a relatively large language base; including four varieties of English, three Spanish and French, two German, Italian, and Mandarin. There is notably no support for Portuguese, an official language in nine countries totalling over 220 million native speakers.
With Apple selling devices in over 120 countries, a lot more needs to be done. Millions of users are missing out. iOS7’s dictation feature highlights how much work Apple needs to do. 15 countries can dictate to Siri; that’s only around 12.5%.
Increased language support would bring Siri to the masses. It would also allow for the creation of regional dictionaries, catering to ‘slang’ and variations in dialect throughout individual territories, rather than just the broad differences between UK, US and Australian English.
3. Improve voice recognition
Accurately recognising voice input, and then to deliver relevant responses is at the heart of Siri’s operation. It is, as yet, unable to distinguish between two different voices. This means that we can use Siri on our device, but so can our friends and anybody that gets hold of our phone.
A simple set of phrases or paragraph of text read aloud should calibrate Siri to individual voice patterns. Multiple users would then be able to use Siri securely with parental controls introduced to protect and educate kids.
Increased language support and voice recognition would allow for the creation of regional dictionaries. Analysing trends from different regions would allow Apple to manage and update these, making them more relevant.
4. Act as an automatic translator
Increased language support would lead to the ability to translate between a greater number of languages. Translation software has been done before, and done well, but this requires both an active internet connection and having to manually search each phrase.
With a downloaded language pack installed, Siri could act as an automatic translator without the associated roaming charges. Using a basic command like "Siri translate conversation to French" should allow you to talk freely.
After all, Samsung can (sort of) do it, and Apple loves to be the brand that makes things simple – what’s better than international interaction?
Siri should actively translate what you’re saying into French (Or other languages) and vice versa, reducing the disjointedness that is associated with communicating abroad.
5. Be ‘always on’
Google is pushing its ‘always on’ feature in both Now and Google Glass as well as on the Moto X, allowing results to be found without manually locating a search app. This element is missing from Siri, and we can’t see why.
iOS in the car is making Siri safer, bringing it to motorists without the need to hit a home button on your iPhone. This safety feature is then missing to all motorists, being available only to those purchasing new iOS toting vehicles.
Always on features have garnered a lot of negative press; people are increasingly concerned about privacy. Apple would need to address this and by allowing the feature to be manually enabled (or disabled), public fears would be allayed. A better phrase than ‘OK Siri’ is also needed.
Google Now’s major advantage over Siri is its ability to provide you with relevant data immediately without manual input. This makes it more able to impersonate a human assistant, if Siri can provide relevant data in a similar way it will make searches both quicker and more useful.
In order to make the most out of Now, a heavy investment is required in Google’s ecosystem; using it to search, Gmail and calendar for instance. Apple doesn’t need this, it can tap into the data that we provide from other services via Apple apps.
Steps to make Siri more contextual have already been taken but these need to be implemented quickly. Cue, a service that took data from your daily plans, contacts and emails, has already been snapped up by the Cupertino firm.
7. Individual app settings
Apple excels in its handling of settings menus, making them all accessible in the same place. It is possible to manually change notification settings without having to open each app, as well as view each apps menu.
The same menu for Siri would allow you to control which apps Siri pulled data from. Siri would become more personal, knowing what you want it to know. This would aid privacy and allow better contextual searching within the device.
8. Give Siri notifications
Notifications are part of the package that Google Now offers, with it able to give live traffic and weather updates when it feels you need to know. This makes it useful, but at the same time is rather annoying.
Siri should notify us when it has something useful to say, but allowing us to control what and when. Let us know what the weather is like at work, but only on a weekday morning. Let us know we have a shopping list, but only when we’re near the supermarket.
The weather and calendar are already in the notifications bar, but if they’re irrelevant let us remove them. Apple already has an impressive ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature, so bring the same technology over to Siri, controlling when apps can be muted.
9. Make features universal
One of the biggest bugbears of any app, device, or just about any big product launch is a lack of global availability. Users are increasingly aware of what features are available in their area, and what is available elsewhere.
Apple needs to be an industry leader and make features available globally at the same time. Dictation is available in 15 countries, yet movie show times can only be found in Canada, the US and UK.
A lot of Siri’s early problems centred around its inability to search for businesses outside of the US, leaving Apple a little red-faced. If features cannot be made global immediately, give a time frame for release or let us know of problems. Openness truly is the key to placating the baying crowd.
10. Downloadable voices
Our last suggestion may seem a little comical, but there is method in our madness trust us. Sat-nav devices have become the kings of third party voices, able to offer a novelty take on something as mundane as giving directions.
Apple may initially be lambasted for the introduction of celebrity voices, but an increase the appeal of the digital assistant could give a whole raft of users the incentive to use Siri.
Couple that with crowd sourcing data, Apple would be able to create a large contextual database that providing the most relevant data to the widest range of people.