Apple iPhone 4S personal assistant: Siri

Apple introduced its Siri voice recognition app that uses natural language to help users search for a multitude of things on their iPhone 4S.

Some of the options found within Siri. CNET Staff

Apple demonstrated an intelligent voice recognition app that turns the iPhone 4S into a personal assistant.

The app, which uses natural language, is still in beta tests. But it will likely become a feature on the soon-to-be-released iPhone 4S. Scott Forstall, head of Apple iOS, spent a considerable amount of time demonstrating the new app at the Apple event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday.

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By simply holding down the home or "I" button on the device, users can launch the app and be given a list of commands that will allow them to play songs, call people, create text messages, set up meetings and reminders, get directions, and dictate e-mails by simply speaking at their phones. Other commands that can be activated by voice are checking the weather and stock prices, setting alarms, looking up addresses, writing notes in the Notes app, and searching the Web.

Forstall gave several demonstrations of Siri. Part of what makes the app so advanced and unique is its ability to use natural language and to respond in that natural language back to users. For example, during the demonstration, Forstall asked the phone: "Do I need a raincoat today?" The app responded by saying, "It sure looks like rain today."

Apple partnered with Yelp so that people can search for restaurants by speaking into their phone. Forstall showed how this worked by saying into the phone, "Find me a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto." The app responded with, "I found 14 Greek restaurants. Five of them are in Palo Alto." The app then lists them with Yelp star reviews.

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Siri also enables people to have their text messages read aloud, and it lets users respond aloud. Forstall also demonstrated this feature. But the app also enables users to take further action. Responding to an SMS message, Forstall asked Siri whether his schedule is clear before responding to the text, and the app pulled up a calendar. He then booked the meeting, and a calendar invitation was sent.

"All hands-free, just by talking to my iPhone and by talking to Siri," Forstall said.

Then he demonstrated how the app could perform even more advanced functions, such as remind him to do things. He said, "Remind me to call my wife when I leave work." And then Siri asked, "Here's your reminder for when you leave work. Shall I create it?"

To wrap up the segment, Forstall asked who Siri was. And the app responded, "I am a humble personal assistant."

Siri will be in beta testing when the iPhone 4S launches later this month. The company hasn't said when the final version of the software will be commercially available. It will be available for English, French, and German speakers. And Apple said it will add more languages to the app over time.

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