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iPhone Q&A - Published October 30, 2011

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What is Siri? How well does Siri work in "real world" use? Are hacks available to run Siri on unsupported iPod, iPhone, or iPad models?

Siri is the name of a voice activated "intelligent assistant" application and service that Apple acquired, enhanced, and integrated into the iPhone 4S and subsequently released iPhone models.

In Apple's own press release for the iPhone 4S, the company promotes the technology by explaining:

Siri understands context allowing you to speak naturally when you ask it questions, for example, if you ask "Will I need an umbrella this weekend?" it understands you are looking for a weather forecast. Siri is also smart about using the personal information you allow it to access, for example, if you tell Siri "Remind me to call Mom when I get home" it can find "Mom" in your address book, or ask Siri "What's the traffic like around here?" and it can figure out where "here" is based on your current location. Siri helps you make calls, send text messages or email, schedule meetings and reminders, make notes, search the Internet, find local businesses, get directions and more. You can also get answers, find facts and even perform complex calculations just by asking.

Unusually for Apple, the company originally noted that Siri was "in beta" and that the company would "continue to improve it over time." With the release of iOS 7, Apple removed the "beta" tag.

Real-World Siri Use

Based on hands-on use, Siri typically works well in a quiet room for basic tasks like sending a text message or e-mail message. This use alone is vastly superior to typing on the small display and likely to be worth the price of the device for many.

Siri also usually works well for dictating notes in addition to setting reminders, appointments and alarms. In a noisy environment or with a multi-step process, it's more likely to be inaccurate or take more time than just tapping on the display.

In in-depth reviews, iLounge and ArsTechnica both cover some of the particular joys and foibles each individual reviewer encountered. For a less enthusiastic view, Unpluggd provides a cordial rant about many of Siri's limitations, particularly when used in a noisy car during highway travel.

This video from MacWorld also provides an excellent overview of Siri in the real-world. As you can see, Siri generally performs well, but the "iPhone 4 ass" transcription error is rather funny, too:

If you have reasonable expectations, you likely will be delighted. However, if you expect Siri to be a replacement for a human assistant, you will be disappointed.

Siri Hacks for iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4th Gen

One might think that only the iPhone 4S has sufficient hardware capabilities to run Siri, but the iPad 2 is faster, so there definitely is no hardware reason why it couldn't also run the software or service. The older iPhone 4 is slower than the iPhone 4S, but the Siri software prior to Apple's purchase ran on the iPhone 4 without issue.

Consequently, it is apparent that Apple has restricted Siri encourage purchase of newer iPhone models. Naturally, Apple wants to sell as many new iPhone devices as possible and encouraging existing users to upgrade always is a key strategy for any business.

However, as first spotted by 9to5Mac, a hardworking developer by the name of Steve Troughton-Smith was able to get the client-side Siri software to run on the iPhone 4 within hours of the iPhone 4S release, but had yet to determine how to get it to work with Apple's server. More recently, the same developer figured out the "missing piece" and was able to run Siri without difficulty on both the iPhone 4 as well as the iPod touch 4th Gen.

This short video demonstrates Siri operating on the iPod touch 4th Gen and doing so reasonably well despite the noisy room:

Troughton-Smith has wisely declined to release the "jailbreak" files necessary to perform the hack, but he may provide instructions in the future. Regardless, it is only a matter of time before others release both instructions and any needed software, "cracked" or otherwise.

Siri's Future

Siri is useful, albeit it is sometimes frustrating and sometimes quite impressive. However, it is a safe bet that Siri will continue to become more accurate and more useful from here, particularly once it is available for use by third-party applications. In the long-term, Siri very well could become a replacement for traditional search on mobile, too.


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