back to article Siri: Helpful personal assistant or SERIAL APP KILLER?

In a world of where every mobile device contains a personal assistant, who will need mobile apps? Do you suffer from app clutter? My smartphone has lots of apps on it too. Finding the right one can be a pain, even though I have stuck some in folders to make the presentation less crowded on the screen. Then it has got to be …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first

    Sounds familiar

    Who was that chap who had a similarly useful companion in the guise of a Franciscan friar?

    1. POSitality

      Re: Sounds familiar

      It's all been done before:

      Nathan Spring had a portable, voice-activated computer he called "Box" and performed the usual SF "Deus Ex Machina."

      Time is the only requirement for most fiction to become fact :)

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Oddlegs

    All true unless:

    You're somewhere noisy

    You're somewhere you have to be quiet

    You're somewhere without network connection

    You don't want to look like an idiot by talking to your phone

    Also, whilst getting better, the mobile PAs aren't 100% accurate. Would you accept a keyboard which got what you typed wrong 5% of the time? Or even 1%.

    Apps aren't going away anytime soon.

    1. Tenacal

      Don't forget about speech patterns.

      Written English is recognised much better than spoken English. You have a few minor spelling differences (colour=color, etc) against a whole range of accents that blend sounds or skip words, a multitude of voices that can all have subtle variations.

      Then you've got all the actual words to worry about. A foreign visitor trying to type 'Loughborough' is just a matter of coping it down from a nearby sign, actually trying to pronounce it can cause a whole world of problems.

    2. RyokuMas

      Also, don't forget that games make up the lions share of the app market.

      Somehow, I don't think "Siri, play Angry Birds for me" is going to be very entertaining...

      1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        If people will watch a fish playing Pokemon on Twitch, then some people will want to watch Siri playing Angry Birds. Why, I don't know.

      2. Tom 35

        Will Siri post of fancebook

        Begging for extra lives for candy crush?

        Will your friends phone automatically supply them?

    3. dogged

      DISCLAIMER - I've only used Cortana. But -

      >You're somewhere noisy

      Type your question.

      >You're somewhere you have to be quiet

      Type your question

      >You don't want to look like an idiot by talking to your phone

      Type your question

      >Also, whilst getting better, the mobile PAs aren't 100% accurate. Would you accept a keyboard which got what you typed wrong 5% of the time? Or even 1%.

      Type your question.

      I don't know if you can do that with Siri and Google Now, but given that you can with Cortana I suspect it's coming if not already here.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Type your question ?

        HA! HA! HAA!

        Excuse me, but people in cinemas already have apparently extreme difficulty in turning the bloody things off, so I seriously doubt that that is going to be a widely-used option.

      2. baseh

        Typing in Cortana

        Isn't that the same as a Search??

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Typing in Cortana

          I guess not, as Cortana is going to be able to operate various functions on the phone, which a search can't. Of course, if you're typing anyway, why not just go to the app?

  3. lurker

    "OK. Book the 9pm one and hire a Hertz car at Charles De Gaulle airport for my arrival"

    I think you are significantly underestimating the complexities of writing software to do this kind of thing.

    It would essentially require some kind of unified global payments API or protocol which currently does not exist. Right now, 'Siri' or whatever, would need to essentially 'spider' the mentioned website and intelligently work out how to enter your personal/card details, navigate the booking pages, deal with problems (no car available) etc. That or have a custom-written plugin handling every possible such request.

    So while I think that there is some truth in what you are saying, that obviously Google, Apple, Microsoft are walking a fine line - providing a marketplace for app developers while also being the biggest competitive threat to those same developers - the actual 'phone that does everything for me' scenario you seem to be describing is not currently anywhere on the horizon.

    1. RosslynDad

      Re: "OK. Book the 9pm one and hire a Hertz car at Charles De Gaulle airport for my arrival"

      It gets worse. I want this pair wrapped in a transaction so that if/when the flight booking fails I don't want a hire car sitting waiting for me having fun with my credit card. At least with apps I can rollback the lot when one part fails. I managed to take the wind out the sails of a web services evangelist a decade or so ago with this same scenario. Still no solution.

    2. User McUser

      Re: "OK. Book the 9pm one and hire a Hertz car at Charles De Gaulle airport for my arrival"

      It would essentially require some kind of unified global payments API or protocol which currently does not exist. Right now, 'Siri' or whatever, would need to essentially 'spider' the mentioned website and intelligently work out how to enter your personal/card details, navigate the booking pages, deal with problems (no car available) etc. That or have a custom-written plugin handling every possible such request.

      No, no it wouldn't. Computer programs don't have to go to the website, they can just make direct database connections and exchange the requisite data.

      An SPA (to use the vernacular of the article) would only search the airlines that used the Apple/Google/Microsoft API for payment and booking. Or, they would partner with (or buy) an existing travel website or two and use those systems.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The smarter phones get, the less we use our brains.

    (In twenty years)

    Siri, tell me when to breathe in.

    Siri, tell me when to breathe out.

    1. Natalie Gritpants Silver badge

      Siri, how do I make a phone call?

      1. Darryl

        Siri, what's this rectangular object with the shiny face that shows pretty pictures that I seem to have in my pocket?

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Siri, how do I use Siri?

    2. JLV

      Idiocracy II: Siri, the return

      Siri, gemme sum tirst mutilatoh.

    3. baseh

      Yes, we will use our brains less for this but

      it was also true of the calculator replacing logarithmic tables multiplication.

      And didn't humanity find something else to use the freed brain capacity for?

  5. The Mole

    To be fair for most of those examples (except perhaps interactive navigation) you don't need an app beyond a web browser anyway, they are just information retrieval operations.

    Apps will still come in useful for interactive applications like video chat, navigation, and of course gaming - though I'm sure html5 will be able to perform some of those tasks.

  6. Moktu

    "Siri show me some porn"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      1. Lost in Cyberspace
        Thumb Up


        Love it. I piss my daughter off by shouting Xbox commands from the top of the stairs during her games.

        Well, *I* think it's quite funny

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Problem is, Siri is someone else's program, running on someone else's computer and primarily for someone else's benefit at the end of the day.

    1. Captain Hogwash

      Re: someone else's program


      Siri, recommend an alternative to Siri.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: someone else's program

        Going to go a bit further along this line of thought:

        "Do you agree with what I'm seeing here? The prospects are endless and Siri/Cortana/Google whatever should become the speech recognition app interface abstraction layer. We will still need app functions but they will be hidden away behind the smart personal assistant (SPA).

        I don't agree. It depends upon how much of yourself you are willing to sell for personal convenience. The well can and will be poisoned if you trust a corporation (or any business/company/whatever).

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: someone else's program

        Siri, Ask Cortana if it is raining

    2. Infernoz Bronze badge

      ... and if you have a slow, intermittent or no network connection to that other computer or anything else goes wrong it becomes completely useless functionality.

      There are also the problems of spying, wrong consequent action, or deliberately managed consequent action in the interest of some other party!

  8. Mark Allen

    Maybe... but only if it gets localised

    Trouble is with Siri and dumb assistants like that they are going to be too biased to the American OS they are installed on. Would you trust Siri to get you there via Apple Maps? Or rather open up Google maps instead?

    If you can tell Siri which app to use to get reliable information, then maybe it would be of some use. Trouble is, Siri doesn't work for you, she works for her masters at Apple.

    An obvious error I see appeared in your article:

    "Want a weather forecast for Gloucester? I could ask Siri instead of firing up the BBC weather app."

    Try comparing the Accuweather App with the BBC weather app. I'd trust the constantly updating local Met Office data over the US Accuweather data any day. Have done a few tests comparing them and the difference in quality is noticeable when compared with what *actually* happens outside..

    Phone Assistants need to be localised to their market. Under the control of the user of the device. Allowed to trust sources that are not Apple. Trouble is, I don't think Apple would really like that.

    (Same would be said for Android or Microsoft Assistants)

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Maybe... but only if it gets localised

      I've found Accuweather to be OK. The Met Office don't seem to be much better at predicting rain, so I used to stick to my Accuweather based app, because I liked the pretty pictures.

      But then Winter came. And I noticed that Accuweather predicted snow almost every day when the temperature was below about 2°C. I remember hearing an interview with a BBC weather forecaster talking about this, and how hard it is to predict snow in the UK - particularly the South. As it doesn't tend to drop much below zero, so you've got conditions that could give snow, sleet or rain, and it's often impossible to predict which. The Met Office were way better, so I've got into the habit of using them. I wonder if it's because the Met Office have a model tuned to the UK, and Accuweather's is set to US mode?

  9. CmdrX3

    Not for me

    I have enough problems trying to get the stupid thing to call my brothers number. I have pretty much given up on Siri now as I generally find it quicker to do it myself.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not for me

      Does he have a strangely spelt/pronounced name? I struggled to get it to call a foreign friend as it was reading her name with an english accent not a Polish one. Added a phonetic spelling to her contact details on the phone and worked fine from then on.

  10. Yugguy

    But do you trust it?

    Working in IT, and to be fair being old, I have an inbuilt distrust of computers as I know that quite often, they are simply not logical.

    So even if I were to have set an alarm via a personal assistant app and voice recognition I would HAVE to go into the alarm app and double-check. I doubt I will ever completely trust automata.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: But do you trust it?

      Working in IT, and to be fair being old, I have an inbuilt distrust of computers as I know that quite often, they are simply not logical.

      Curious conclusion, I too work in IT and have since dinosaurs roamed the world, okay maybe not quite that long but you get the idea and I know computers are the epitome of logic seeing as that's what the underlying circuitry is based on, however I also know that the idiots who write the programs are far from logical and that's the problem which was summed up when the first pile of punched cards got shuffled: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

      So I fully trust computers to do exactly what their programming tells them to do but I have very little trust in the software running on them, even (especially) stuff I wrote.

      1. Yugguy

        Re: But do you trust it?

        My sentiments exactly. But they also rely on their inputs, and if these are corrupt anything can happen. Like an alarm being set for 12 hours out perhaps. Or more seriously a driverless car not recognising a road edge signal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But do you trust it?

      Siri shows the alarm after its set, so you don't need to worry about that. But I agree when it came to more complex queries like booking a flight, hotel and car, it would be difficult to trust. Hell, I'd have trouble trusting a person to do it for me, let alone a computer!

      If I'm paying my own bill, my flight selections are a combination of a price and time. I don't want to get up at 4am for an early flight, but if a more convenient department time costs $300 more, I'll get up earlier. Same for hotels, I might want the perfect location, but if those rooms are $500/night, and there's a hotel a mile away that costs $200/night, I don't mind the walk or can afford to take more cab rides. When renting a car, there are certain models I just don't like, and it would require a lot of rentals for a personal assistant (virtual or human) to understand my preferences and biases, and of course that is also based on other factors like price, convenience (do I have to remember to fill it up before returning it?) and so forth.

      1. handle

        Re: But do you trust it?

        Oh I wouldn't worry - it'll soon learn all your preferences and biases: the power of the targeted ad has ensured that that technology is mature already.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course you can trust Siri

    This link has to be dropped in here. The Boondocks did a rather good episode on Siri getting out of hand.

    You don't really need to know the rest of the series to get the idea of what is going on....

    1. Yugguy

      Re: Of course you can trust Siri

      That doesnt necessarily work either - that only works if you have one user per device or account. My daughter uses youtube under my google account, which is why my suggested videos are a mix of heavy metal music and my little pony.

  12. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Missed an example...

    Siri, ask Hal to open the pod bay doors please.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Missed an example...

      "I'm sorry I can't do that."

      "Stuff it then. I'll switch to Android."

  13. Joe Harrison

    Paranoid, moi?

    You would be entering a large number of voice samples... would there be a back door uploading them to train someone's vocal recognition system? Your burner phone would no longer fool them would it.

    1. handle

      Re: Paranoid, moi?

      No back door - it's refining its own voice recognition system all the time, in the same way that search engines refine themselves by seeing how near the top of the results people click, and face recognition systems refine themselves by people tagging images on Facebook.

  14. Jason Bloomberg


    "... please explain voice connected thin client networking to me".

    Having a central mainframe and a termina^W voice connection to it is all well and good until you don't have a connection, bandwidth or contention becomes a problem.

    I expect, just as we are about to burn our apps and rely entirely on Siri, someone will remind us of the advantages of running local apps on our own devices and we can run round the circle again.

    If only using Siri for voice activation and controlling local apps, that's an argument for putting Siri on the phone. And that adds another app :-)

  15. Tom 35

    Book a hotel...

    Your going to let Siri pick one? Will it pick the cheapest one? The one that gives Apple the biggest kickback? Will it look it up on some rating site to pick a nice one?

    Will you yell at Siri if it picks a rat infested dive with broken AC?

    1. GrantB

      Re: Book a hotel...

      Can you imagine the Amazon version?

      Where can I buy the Sonos 3? ... Amazon.

      Where is nearest coffee shop? ... You can buy coffee via Amazon

      Please book me a flight to... Amazon now allows you to book flights by one-click...

      Basically, requires a lot of trust in the integrity and quality of the assistant, and I don't entirely trust the marketing departments of any company if the got there hands on the controls. Why do any mobile advertising, if your trusted assistant could just literally tell people what to buy?

      That being said, I travel a bit and at times, if an assistant had good local data (they mostly don't yet), then could be huge advantage of using a bunch of apps like travel guides, maps, local websites etc.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everything the author says is true

    But we are many many years away from Siri/Google Now/Cortana starting to replace apps that do more than allow setting alarms or looking up individual pieces of information. For complex tasks like booking flights, unless you only care about schedule (i.e. you aren't paying for it yourself) choosing flights is an exercise in trading preferences. Then you get into the questions about what is the best time to book, since prices aren't stable and unless you need to travel ASAP you might get the best price six months in advance, six weeks in advance, or six days in advance!

    When I do book, do I want to save money by waking up at 4am, or by having a 5 hour layover between flights? This flight is cheaper and has the best schedule, but the only seats left are middle seats. This flight looks good, but its the last flight through O'Hare in the evening during the summer (for those who don't know, this is a terrible idea as a raindrop within 50 miles of O'Hare seems to slow everything down and the last flights out to a particular destination are often cancelled, especially if they're to smaller airports)

    I'm not sure I'll live to see a virtual assistant be able to do a proper job of that, because I'm fighting against the airlines' computers, which are updating prices hourly and trying to optimize against consumers and make sure the more convenience I want the more I have to pay.

  17. Andrew Hart

    Siri can be useful for somethings, my most frequent use is to turn all the alarms I've set off. Say 'disable all alarms' to Siri and it will turn off every alarm set in the clock app. Great timesaver!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      That's a useful one to try, for a chronic over-sleeper who often gets an alarm while he's halfway through showering, because I set it to wake me if I'd gone back to sleep.

      It's great for cooking too. Where you've got one hand that's dirty, wet or holding something. The other can set a timer.

  18. Camilla Smythe

    Tell me I'm wrong

    You are wrong.

    I recently switched off my 'defences' in order to 'experiment' elsewhere and was 'targeted', presumably for advertising.

    Within an instant all my searches turned to someone else's incorrect guesses as to what I might be looking for.


    Normal service was resumed having switched my defences back on with a clean browser restart.

  19. Mage Silver badge

    Most Apps are pointless

    No surprise.

    A decent Web browser with big enough screen and decent User interface makes most of them pointless.

    The only App I've added was a "Jotter" that makes text files. I'm not going to sit talking to it, even assuming the speech recognition is good enough to replace writing.

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: Most Apps are pointless

      Well it's just like with "multimedia CD-Roms" back in the 1990s. You bought an "Online Encyclopedia" which had a couple of thousands of articles of dubious quality. Or you bought image archives where you got someone's holiday snapshots and povray experments.

      This has passed with fast Internet. And as soon as decent mobile Internet is available it'll pass in the mobile world, too. Now what Siri has introduced is something very much like a command line. You literally say your computer what you want, and it'll obey your command. Maybe one day there will be a simple voice terminal, encoding what you say into the 4800bit/sec stream used by such services, and giving you back the results in a form that can be said and shown.

    2. handle

      Re: Most Apps are pointless

      Hmm. As far as I can tell, web browsers suffer from a few problems which apps can solve:

      - Access to OS services (eg the camera flash as a torch, or an external GPS receiver for better reception and dramatically improved battery life [Bluetooth GPS])

      - Memory footprint (web browsers are heavyweight and tend to get shut down when backgrounded, making them slow to access when you, say, want to check the weather [BBC Weather])

      - Access to network services (eg ssh [ConnectBot] and irc [AndChat])

      - Local storage (eg downloading maps for subsequent navigation and tracking [Viewranger])

      - Ability to keep functioning in the background (most of the apps above)

      Some of these ought to be built into the operating system of course, but in the mean time apps allow you to get this functionality, and I'd say are more secure than an all-encompassing web browser. (I use Firefox by the way, for its ability to block ads and seamlessly erase cookies etc using plugins.)

      1. Christian Berger

        Re: Most Apps are pointless

        Well those are shortcomings of current browsers. Browsers have become a gigantic mess. However let's imagine for a moment we'd have something much more simpler than a browser bringing you the same functionality. Essentially a simple protocol to let your mobile device be a client to a server you choose.

        BTW access to cameras and local storage is something Javascript has on modern browsers. :)

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Most Apps are pointless

        Memory footprint (web browsers are heavyweight and tend to get shut down when backgrounded, making them slow to access when you, say, want to check the weather [BBC Weather])

        Yes. Whoever heard of someone having more than 640K on his mobile device?

  20. zanshin


    How do you think the assistant is going to *do* all those things, and get all that data?

    When I need directions, I still want to *look* at a map. I can figure out what I need to do much faster by doing that than by having a virtual conversation with my device. Having the map at hand calls for an app, even if it's an app the assistant-maker also built, and the assistant can directly integrate with it.

    And when I have had an instant messaging chat with someone and am trying to remember the name of the person they told me to ask for at the local office? Well, I suppose it's possible a *really* damn impressive assistant could get that from the chat, though at that point I'd start to wonder what they'd need me for. But where are the chats stored? Sounds like the chats are stored in an app, to me. Did I have an IM chat with my friend via the assistant? Sounds like the chat needs an app interface of some kind.

    How is an assistant going to act as a remote for my movie streaming? Do we all really want to *have* to talk to the device to look at a bit of action frame by frame?

    If I want to connect to a new, walled-garden media streaming service a-la Netflix or Spotify, how is my assistant going to achieve that without some sort of app?

    No, assistants are not going to be the death of apps. Apps may be replaced by something else someday, if web-rendered apps, exposed APIs, cloud-based screen rending and so forth keeps advancing. But even then the assistant is going to need to be able to integrate with whatever thing the apps become do do new things. The assistant won't have killed the apps - they'll have changed on their own for largely unrelated reasons.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: No...

      Most people still have better comprehension from reading data than from hearing it. So assistants are fine for simple yes/no questions, but once things get complicated, you're better off seeing a table/map/diagram/text.

      My train and bus companies have perfectly servicable we sites. But on my phone, I use the app, becuase it concentrates the stuff I want when mobile into a smaller screen space. Gives me instant links to things like the live train/bus departure boards. And can use my location too, if I choose to allow it.

      Some apps also allow you to download data, for when you're offline. A problem that will reduce, but I can't see going away for many decades.

  21. John Deeb

    Just one of many, really

    Voice control as one of the many user interfaces. What will liberate (not kill) the app market is the complete freedom to interface with any app with voice control being just one voice in the crowd. Maybe I want specific gestures, automation, external sensors, mind control, a mouse, normal touch, secure locks, childproofing etc. Same reasoning on output, flexibility in how and where to display things will have to grow as well.

    Standards will set us free. Single interface designs are pipe dreams. The world of form is legion and will always demand more ways to access it, not less.

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