What I've really used Siri for: iPhone 4S, 10 days later

The iPhone 4S has one standout feature, but how much of it would you use on a daily basis? A report, one week later.

An actual screenshot. I live in New York. Scott Stein/CNET

Siri has been the subject of Apple's ad campaigns for the iPhone 4S . It's been discussed in terms of its one-liners and its Easter eggs, its cloud-based accomplishments and its similarity to services Android already offers .

That's all fine, but it's ignoring the obvious question: what are you really, truly going to use Siri for?

My iPhone 4S arrived on October 14, 10 days ago. I upgraded from my iPhone 4 mainly because my wife's iPhone introduced itself to an open toilet, and I passed my iPhone on to her. After a few days of use, I could see why Siri was being so heralded; honestly, it's hard to observe improvements on the iPhone 4S versus the 4 otherwise, unless you're using the camera.

After a good week or so, this is what's impressed me the most:

Voice transcription: A microphone icon baked into the keyboard in nearly all apps means I can dictate tweets, texts, notes, and e-mails. It works well enough to appear significantly faster than typing, especially when walking. It's a great way of transcribing quick thoughts, too, like a verbal notepad.

Quick math: Siri's ability to do calculations is another clever help, especially when I'm too lazy to figure out where I hid my calculator app. Yes, Wolfram Alpha gets the results done with speed, but it's not really the way I'd ever do important calculations. I'd rather not risk making mistakes.

Searching calendar appointments: I didn't even realize Siri could do this until recently, but being able to ask for keywords and have Siri search my calendar is huge.

Searching e-mail: Sometimes, my e-mail app hiccups when I try searching for old e-mails (maybe I have too many messages downloaded). Siri can't read the contents of an e-mail, but it can quickly pull up e-mails that fit, say, "HP appointment."

Bypassing the lock screen: I know this is an issue for some , but I love it. I need a passcode lock on my iPhone to use my corporate mail. Siri allows me a quick-fix way to check some details without entering my code each time.

What I haven't been wild about: speaking out loud to my phone.

I experimented with the previous iPhones' Voice Control on numerous occasions, giving up each time. I only found it useful for initiating phone calls while on the road. Siri's voice recognition is undeniably impressive. Its bag of tricks are clever indeed, and fun to explore in the same way that using the Microsoft Kinect or an advanced chatbot could keep you entertained. Siri is more than either of those, but many current features of Siri often replicate what you could do otherwise with a few simple taps.

I can set an alarm with Siri, but when I did my wife instantly complained as she lay in bed half-asleep at how annoying it was that I didn't just set the clock normally, instead of talking to my phone like Captain Picard. I've booked appointments, but Siri sometimes doesn't get the text right, and correcting the error feels like it takes as much time as simply opening the calendar. Searching for information tends to result in Siri asking if she should search the Web. At that point, I think, I could have done this myself on Google.

I've seen sites full of tips on Siri commands that can prove how much it can do. Sure, I like a challenge, but I don't consider my phone to be a game. Siri needs to expand its bag of tricks--which, I imagine/hope, will happen once Siri passes out of beta, and once more apps support Siri functionality.

Have you found any important uses for Siri? What do you really use Siri for? I have my doubts as to how revolutionary Siri will really be (a brief parody video pre-Siri has ended up slightly more truthful than I anticipated), unless Siri can learn and improve over time. Siri does show examples of this--Siri has already asked for and learned my parents' and sister's names, after all. Once other apps start using Siri to turn the service into a true personal assistant, then I could see using Siri all the time. Right now, I'm finding it to be more of a cocktail party trick than a personal assistant.

 

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