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Want To Know What The Next Generation of Apps Will Be Like? Talk to Siri

Article first published as Want To Know What The Next Generation of Apps Will Be Like? Talk to Siri on Technorati.

A lot of people asked me why I upgraded to the iPhone 4S. The reason I gave—before I upgraded—was to get its new 8-megapixel camera. However, the reason I would now give—after I upgraded—is to get Siri.

jane-jetson-280pxwIt is really easy to think of Siri as a “toy”, something that lets you perform a few simple “parlor tricks” with your voice (instead of you fingers). It’s not. In reality, Siri a huge step forward into the world of the next generation of Post-PC Era interface. I know, this statement sounds a little overblown and buzz-wordy. However, it’s rather clear if you step back and look at the trends in computing that have developed since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007:

The iPhone: Life Is Integrated

While the iPhone was not the first integrated smartphone (or even the first capacitive touch phone), it was the first smartphone that made integration “of everything” easy and intuitive. You could manage your phone calls, contact lists, texting, email, web browsing, navigation, picture and photo albums in one simple, intuitive device—using the best tool known to man: your fingers. Better yet, the iPhone recognized that life always offers new opportunities. It enabled you to add new capabilities (i.e., Apps) created by others just as easily as you would add songs to your music library.

The changes since the iPhone’s introduction have been enormous. Smartphone growth since 2007 has outpaced growth of the Internet, TV or radio. Capacitive touch interfaces are now mainstream (well beyond iOS). App Stores are not just exploding, they are becoming the mainstream way to get software.

The iPad: Life Is Beyond the PC

This success of the iPhone paved the way to the iPad, the first mainstream market capacitive touch tablet. While many tablets were launched before the iPad, none of them became “must have” ubiquitous devices. The impact of the iPad has been even larger than that of the iPhone. It has heralded talk of a new Post-PC Era. It had grown even faster than iPad. Competitors have released over 100 products—in less than two years—to compete with it. A whole new generation of touch-based apps have been created to tap this grow, from industries as diverse as startups to old media to medicine.

However, the iPad has not quite “closed the door” on PCs yet. The “$64‑Billion Question” I always hear is, “iPads are great, but people are going to still need to enter text. How will they do that without a real keyboard?” Yes, tablets are “re-wiring” how we interact with “information devices” (f.k.a. PCs). Yes, many creative apps have shown that tablets can be used to create content in ways that keyboards cannot. Nevertheless, these techniques have still not yet answered the $64‑Billion Question. Now, Siri provides the answer.

Siri: Life Doesn’t Need a Keyboard

What iPhone did for smartphones, Siri will do for voice-based recognition and interaction. It is the first application that makes integrated voice interaction with multiple applications (phone, texting, pictures, email, web, picture and music album management) easy and finger-free (touch screen- and keyboard- free). The idea of being able to replace what you did with your hands with your voice is no longer a concept—it is real. Ellis Hamburger of Business Insider recently wrote how surprisingly much this changes your entire way of interacting with information devices, after just two weeks of use.

However, this is just the beginning of much more to come. The introduction of Siri to the (“not a major upgrade,” “limited market”) iPhone 4S triggers two important steps. First, it begins “training early adopters” in voice-driven interaction (while simultaneously creating “buzz” for everyone else). Second, it gives Apple valuable data needed to fully achieve a best-in-class voice-driven usability experience on a much broader scale in “major” product releases.

From, here we will see five things to come—by the end of 2012:

1. Massively Expanded Siri on iPad 3. Apple will launch a massively expanded version of Siri on the iPad 3, drawing upon its much bigger screen and integration with your home or office. Imagine people able to dictate documents, letters, etc. with nice formatting, watching the screen type faster than you can. Imagine extending this music, video, family photo albums, controls for your home, etc.

2. New Siri SDK for iOS. In combination with release of the iPad 3 (or iPhone 5), Apple will release a SDK to enable all developers (not just a select few partners) to build voice interactive applications on the iPhone, iPad, and (maybe) Apple TV. This will create an…

3. Explosion of New Voice-driven Apps. Just as the iPhone and iPad app stores created an explosion of mobile- and touch-based Apps, the Siri SDK will do the same for voice-driven applications. This creativity will yield more ideas that any one company or person could conceive of on their own.

4. Renewed Innovation from the Competition. The millions of people downloading voice-driven apps for their iPhones and iPads will be too attractive a market for competitors to ignore. They will develop voice-driven applications, SDKs and markets of their own. Google will be a major player (given their work in voice-driven search) ensuring the “iOS vs. Android” fight continues its intensity.

5. Smartphones Will Improve Microphone Quality. Human beings are (for now) much better at understanding speech than computers are. We are all now trained to “fill in the gaps” of things we cannot hear on poor-quality mobile phone calls. Voice-driven computer apps are going to take a long time to catch up. As a result, Apple, Google and Microsoft will drive handset providers to improve microphone clarity—making smartphones better for all.

By 2013, new applications will look (and sound) very little like they do today (let alone how they did in 2007). Of course the challenge at this point will be figuring out how can we all hear ourselves over everyone talking to his or her devices. I’m sure someone will figure out an app for that.

Building apps for tablets? Think “Augmented Reality”

aug_reality_samsungGartner is projecting that more than 55 million tablets will be sold this year (growing past 200 million in 2014). While most of these will be iPads, millions will be from Samsung, RIM, Motorola, and 75+ more. Buyers of these tablets will be from all walks of life: homes, SMBs and large enterprises.

This is a VERY BIG deal. We are seeing a shift in how people use computing devices (what Clayton Christiansen would call a “disruptive innovation.”) However, what is now different is whereas smartphones added a new way of computing, tablets are displacing an existing one: the keyboard-based personal computer.

Taking advantage of this displacement requires a new way of thinking. Tablets are not just “flat PCs with touch keyboards” or “big smartphones without the phone.” They represent a new way people interact with technology: moving, turning, tilting, swiping, tapping, pinching, and more—all on something that is about the size of, the most widely used form of information storage in history, a piece of paper. Going from near-zero to growing annually by 50+ million units every year for four years will drive many more new ways to interact with tablets: better cameras, IR and barcode sensors, directional microphones, voice recognition, projectors and more.

What tablets are doing—in a big way—is providing the first low-cost, compelling and easy-to-use (i.e., mass-market) platform for augmented reality. Those who want to take advantage of this new growing market need to realize this (those who don’t will miss multiple generations of product development). Oh, if you don’t think augmented reality will soon be mainstream, check out The Black Fin.

How do we make the jump to take advantage of this change? First we need to drop the old concepts of the mouse and keyboard–or the PC—and ask more elemental questions:

  • How do I interact with world today without tech—be it work, life or play
  • How would I improve the experience by capturing or adding information in multiple forms: touch, motion, sound?
  • How do I combine this old and new in a way that is natural and intuitive?

tricoder-140px-highWe are starting to see just the very beginning of this with some very cool applications (interactive maps, iBooks, virtual pianos, and lots of cool games). These are only Generation One ideas. It will be exciting to see what comes next—especially for things we spend hours doing each day. Once we get this in place, we will have a Star Trek-like like. Although it will look whole lot better than the futuristic 24th century tricorders we saw on TV 20 years ago.