My Thoughts on a Siri API
They didn’t announce them at WWDC, which makes sense to me. But there were a lot of rumors surrounding this feature. It sounds great but it’s just a feature. Not a benefit. I’ll explain why.
First of all, why is Siri so popular (at least relatively to all other voice controls)? It has a personality, speaks clearly, and can do many basic tasks. Apple has increased the capabilities of Siri. You can launch apps, find movies, book a dinner reservation, and check the latest sports scores and stats. They will definitely add more functionality to Siri as time goes by. But the question on many people’s mind is “Will Apple let developer’s add functionality to Siri.”
My first question to you would be, “Can Apple add those features themselves?”. With their OS, they keep adding Top 10 features until the only things not covered are insignificant. They can do the same to Siri. Siri is still young; in a few years, we may see a fully grown up Siri who can pick up your groceries for you when you forget to.
But Apple can’t possibly do everything, right? Well, I suppose. They can get developers to do it for them. Does that mean a Siri API? Yes and no. I think it won’t be a Siri API in the traditional way. What I mean by that is an API where you can say something like, “tell this app to do this”. I’m thinking it will be more like the integration from Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, and Wolfram Alpha.
With Yelp & Rotten Tomatoes, Apple pulls data from them and it displays it to the user. Siri understands the question and knows HOW to answer it. All she has to do is find a source of knowledge, be it Wolfram or Yelp or others. I think the “Siri API” will be app developers registering their app to be compatible with Siri.
How would they do this? In iOS 6, saying, “take a picture” will give you a list of camera apps to choose from. (Right now, Instagram isn’t an available option, probably due to how it’s labeled in the App Store or the labels within the app). Apps can also register as a routing app. This doesn’t just mean the app is labels as an app that gives routing directions. It also means that the native Maps application can use the app to provide routing directions from within. This was briefly mentioned in the WWDC Keynote.
So I ask again, how would app developers integrate into Siri? Well, by registering the app as able to answer specific questions. For example, an app could register as sports and provide additional information to Siri (Siri doesn’t know Canadian sports right now). I’ve already mentioned routing apps, but what about shopping apps? You could one day ask Siri to reserve the latest iPhone right from your soon-to-be-last-year’s-model iPhone.
If this sounds no different to you than a “traditional” Siri API, then let me explain some more. Imagine if every developer could add functionality to Siri and every time you installed an app, Siri could do more things. Sounds great, right? Democracy and all. But really, do you want that? After 100 apps installed, you would have 100 commands you will never remember. the list will keep growing and sometimes there will be a lot of duplicates. It’ll be chaotic. Not to mention the inconsistencies in personality from developers literally putting words in Siri’s mouth.
Now, imagine if Siri had a set number of features that steadily grew over the years. You recognize Siri and know how to interact with her because she is more or less the same virtual assistant you knew when you first talked to her in 2011. But when you want to get mapping directions, you can use TomTom or MapQuest; if you want to make a phone call, Siri can ask if you want it to be over Skype, other VoIP apps, or the native phone app. Want to buy tickets to your local theatre? If they have an app, you can buy it right from Siri.
To wrap this whole thing up, I believe Apple will integrate other apps and services to Siri, either natively or through API’s. But, as usually, they will do it in such a way that will preserve Siri’s personality and keep her from growing too complex. iOS 7 could be when we see this. Not all at once, of course. But slowly. Each and every single app in Apple could one day integrate another developer’s app. And that app could be yours.