Wednesday, October 5, 2011

iPhone 4s - My New Assistant

A few weeks back I wrote a column on voice input. The ability to speak a command and have an intelligent device carry it out has been around for a while. Cars, for example, have been outfitted with voice activated functions such as placing a call or requesting navigation.

Smart phones themselves have had voice activated search and dial abilities. Some blue-tooth earpieces included voice command capabilities. Google search can be done with voice input and there was even an experimental program on Android called Edwin that was able to research and answer simple spoken questions. Edwin could understand natural language speech, search data sources on the internet and, in a limited cases, speak the answer.

A lot has been written about the new iPhone 4S in the last day or two. It has a faster processor, better camera and several new applications. Some have praised its new features while others expected much more. But one thing is for sure. With its integrated voice activated Assistant, based on the SIRI technology acquired by Apple earlier this year, the iPhone 4s sets a new standard for verbal device interaction. Beyond understanding natural language, Assistant understands you. It just may be the next best thing to having an actual human assistant.

The big difference is that Assistant handles your requests in context. The first time you ask for a restaurant or plane tickets, there will be some interaction. Do you prefer Chinese or Italian? What frequent flyer programs do you belong to or which airport is most convenient? Window or aisle seat? Assistant will gather the additional information it needed to complete the task at hand.

Once these preferences have been obtained they will be factored into every subsequent request. Your Assistant learns about you and will make choices or recommendations based on what is known or can be determined in other ways. With GPS, for instance, your Assistant always knows where you are so location can play a role in any decision.

But wait, there's more. Assistant will be able to interact with popular services to execute transactions on your behalf. Of course, it can post an appointment to your calendar and remind you about that important dinner meeting Tuesday. But Assistant will also be able to interact with OpenTable to book the reservation at your favorite restaurant.

At this point, I can only comment based on what I have read about iPhone4S and Assistant. But as soon as I can get my hands on one I will review it based on first hand experience.

If  this technology evolves much further, administrative assistants everywhere better fear for their jobs.

Captain Joe

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