As in a number of other product categories, Apple has "changed everything" with its deployment of Siri on the iPhone. The company didn't invent the technology but is going a long way toward popularizing it. I did not fully understand this until I read a recent article on the topic (see: Why Siri Matters). Below is an excerpt from it:
...[A] trend that bears on the future of computing went mostly unnoticed [at a recent computer show]. The revolution in voice-controlled computing is advancing slowly and quietly, with Apple's Siri personal assistant leading the way. Apple didn't invent the idea or even the technology Siri is based on. It purchased Siri through an acquisition, polished the user experience and baked it into the iPhone 4S. The launch of that device last October kicked off a new era in computing: one in which people command data, content and services using their voices. Siri rolled out with deliberately scaled-back features and compatibility. Now we're beginning to see how Apple plans to expand it. Last week, the company announced Siri support for more languages and availability on the iPad, representing an expansion in terms of both geography and cross-device compatibility. These new features are incremental, but they represent important steps toward an era of voice-activated computing that's just around the corner. Last week's announcements suggest that Apple wants to establish a meaningful presence in automobiles, and Siri is at the middle of it all. By fall 2012, Siri will land not only in tablets (and presumably a second smartphone, the iPhone 5), but also in cars from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover and Toyota....Apple's success at getting voice control into the market for mobile devices sets it apart. Each quarter, the company sells an astonishing number of iOS devices, which now make up more than 75% of total revenue....The technology will find its way into Apple's desktop operating system, which continues to evolve into something more and more akin to iOS....Apple's strategy implies that voice control will become completely normal before long. If Apple succeeds in weaving Siri thoroughly enough into daily life to influence consumer demand for this type of functionality, its competitors will have little choice but to respond. Their voice-control technologies will evolve alongside Apple's, creating a virtuous cycle of competition and upgrades.
I agree with all of the points in this article. In my own case, I was aware that I had voice-controlled web search and texting on my Android cell phone. However, I was reluctant to put the technology to a test -- part laziness and part lack of confidence in it. However, seeing the Siri/iPad commercials on TV prompted me to give it a try. I have now installed a Siri "wannabe" on my cell phone called Skyvi. I have trained it to recognize the names of of all of my common contacts. I then merely launch the app and say: phone (or text) Jack Spratt. It also dictates to me all incoming texts that I have previously often ignored. Skyvi is not as sophisticated as Siri, I am sure, but I like the technology and it saves me time and effort.
Like other technology, voice control apps require some up-front learning to understand how to use them. One sometimes avoids this out of anxiety or lack of time or a belief that the effort won't be rewarded. On occasion, there is a downstream payoff for the upfront time and effort. Siri changes everything by giving us more confidence in the technology and, in the long run, we will be well served by it.