iPhone 4S’s Siri Is a Search Engine, Will Compete With Google Search
If you’ve already invested in the new iPhone 4S, chances are you’re most excited about its top gadget: Siri. To be sure, Apple has touted Siri above all of the other new features on the iPhone 4S, including a much-enhanced camera array, as well as a bevy of improved hardware features that Apple has chosen to downplay into order to highlight the software side of its latest iPhone iteration. There’s no doubt that those early images of the guy jogging with his iPhone and having Siri shuffle his appointments is something right out of depictions of the future.
Of course, there is plenty that Siri cannot do, and it hasn’t taken long for the wise guys of the tech media to point them out. Fortunately for Siri, it cannot have its feelings hurt or intelligence insulted.
In spite of its limitations, Siri is proving to be much more than simple voice recognition software. It does exhibit an intelligence; a flexibility to understand connotation and meaning that up until this point has been non-existent in the consumer end of voice recognition (who knows what the military may have). And the way that Apple is achieving this is not via a simple app, but rather through similar technologies used by Google’s own search algorithms.
As a result, I think that, with Siri, Apple just got into the search business and will be looking to go head to head against Google Search in the decades to come.
Tom’s Hardware has a comprehensive article on all of the new hardware upgrades for the iPhone 4S (thanks to Core2 for sending it to me). You’ll be surprised to see how much hardware is actually improved, from the battery to the screen, camera, video and beyond. But what I found most interesting was their in-depth look into how Siri works. I was shocked at how similar it is to Google Search.
Writer Andrew Ku explains: “. . . we should clarify that Siri isn’t just an app. Provided you’re asking questions and not giving commands, Siri is a service that interfaces with Apple’s servers to find a response. As such, the ‘intelligence’ behind Siri may change over time as the company optimizes its code.” In other words, just as Google regularly tweaks its algorithm — this year, they have rolled out several “Panda” updates in order to provide better search results to users — so too will Apple update its own search algorithms to make Siri more intuitive when you ask it something.
Ku goes on to explain that, like Google, Siri is all about processing keywords and keyword phrases: “Whenever you ask a question, Siri checks to see if it contains a keyword. This list of keywords only takes precedence over general syntax rules when Siri doesn’t recognize the string of words as a question. A given keyword sets off a function like looking up the weather. So far, we’ve worked out that this list includes: clothing, weather, food, restaurants, hospital, and clinic.” Granted, that is still a limited list, but in fact, those six categories are key search terms for mobile users, and will provide Apple with a basis for greatly expanding its search results capabilities in the very near future.
Where Siri still lags behind Google is in extrapolating sentence syntax and structure. Whereas Google Search has the ability to adjust to various syntax typed into the search box, Siri is still somewhat rigid in how you have to talk to it in order to get sensible results. Ku explains: “Syntax matters a lot. I’ve spent the better part of a day experimenting, and Siri definitely prefers the English standard of subject/verb/object, as opposed to object/subject/verb or object/verb/subject. Basically, don’t talk like Yoda. Questions, commands, or statements that contain extra or unessential words confuse Siri.”
But this shouldn’t be seen as an oversight or clumsy limitation overlooked by the Apple developers. In fact, it is a result of a much more sophisticated process that Apple is using to fetch search results with Siri: whereas Google Search benefits from you inputting the search keywords and criteria, Siri appears to be more of a two-step process, where the front end processes whether or not the voice request is a command or request, and then routes that request either to a proprietary response mechanism or to a search algorithm.
Where Is Apple Getting Its Search Results From?
I have no doubt that Apple intends Siri to become a search standard for the tech mobile community. They will be sure to keep it proprietary and heavily patented, and go after Google as soon as they try to improve their own voice recognition to mirror what Siri is already doing. As a result, I think that Apple has just gotten into the search business without actually saying that they’ve gotten into it. While many people would have expected Apple to develop an internet-based search engine like Google or Yahoo, instead, they have essentially hidden their search engine behind Siri.
Or, maybe we can simply assume that Siri is a search engine.
But I will end this article with a question: where is Siri getting its search results from? Apple has not to my knowledge admitted to building a Google, Yahoo, or Bing-like search engine, and yet Siri behaves like a search engine when it provides keyword-based results. We know that they are not tapping directly into google, since google would have already let us know about that if it were the case. The only assumption left is that Apple has its own search engine behind the scenes.
So, Apple: when we will hear a bit more about it?