Apple’s latest OS X update, Mountain Lion, adds a slate of new features, nearly all derived from iOS 5. There’s one big omission, however: Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled virtual assistant, does not make the migration from mobile to desktop.
Now, technically, Siri isn’t a part of iOS 5. It’s marketed as the most game-changing feature of the iPhone 4S (which runs iOS 5), and Apple has remained mum on whether Siri will ever be ported to other devices — this to the pique of independent developers who’ve hacked the feature to run on everything from the iPod touch to thermostats.
Clearly, Siri is Apple’s most celebrated user feature. And, clearly, there’s interest to see it appear on other Apple devices. Indeed, companies throughout the consumer tech industry are exploring novel new user interface models, including voice-control and gesture-control.
But porting Siri to Mountain Lion desktops would pose several challenges. Apple was smart to leave it out of the latest desktop update, and here’s why.
Microphone positioning on MacBooks and iMacs would present technical challenges for any Siri desktop port. The iPhone is designed to be held up to your face, and has a built-in mic that includes advanced noise reduction technology to ensure your voice is heard loud and clear, while street noise and the nearby guy shouting into his phone aren’t picked up. In part, this is accomplished by using two microphones: one near your mouth to pick up your voice, and another near the headphone jack to identify and cancel out background noise.
Yes, your MacBook Pro has an omnidirectional microphone built-in. It’s very convenient for using Face Time in conjunction with the notebook’s camera, or for the speech recognition function built into Macs for OS control. The omnidirectional mic, however, doesn’t offer the same voice-processing sensitivity of the iPhone 4′s dual-mic arrangement. All told, Siri voice analysis would be far more challenging on a Mac computer, particularly when other voices or noises are in the room.
Granted, using an external mic, or even the mic on your throwaway iDevice earbuds, could provide a solution. But even though Siri is still considered a beta product, Apple wouldn’t resort to such an inelegant hack just to put Siri on Macs.
“Apple has been reluctant to put in features that require something like that,” Forrester analyst Frank Gillett told Wired. “It’s too fussy for what they like to do. Current speech-recognition products work pretty well if you wear a special high-quality microphone. What’s very clear is they need the mic on your face, right by your lips.”
Siri is all about location-awareness. She wants to give you directions, provide local weather reports, and locate the closest sources of exotic cuisine. But desktop computers don’t include native GPS.
Limited Use Cases
With Siri, you can do things like schedule reminders, look up restaurant and business information on Yelp, get information from Wolfram|Alpha, and ask general search engine-style queries. That’s not a large number of functions, and they’re not specifically suited to the desktop environment.
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