We take a look at Siri, the voice-control assistant in the iPhone 4S, and explain a few things it can -- and can't -- help you with.
Siri is the robotic assistant that lives inside the iPhone 4S. This AI automaton, summoned by holding the iPhone 4S' home button, exists only to serve you, following voice-issued orders and occasionally dishing out helpings of snark.
So are we finally living in the robot-filled future? Or is this bionic butler just another failed experiment in voice control? Let's take a look at what Siri can do, and a few things it can't.
A picture speaks a thousand words, so a screenshot filled with words must speak, like, 5,000? Accordingly we've loaded this story with Siri screenshots so you can see how the interface looks, and how it fares with commands. Click through the photos above to check it out.
Siri can juggle your appointments and organise your social life, because it has access to your iPhone's calendar. This is one of the things Siri does well. Say, "I have a meeting tomorrow at two," and it'll say, "You don't have anything on your calendar for tomorrow at 2pm. Shall I create it?"
Once a meeting has been created, you can ask Siri to change the name and details -- it handled our request, "Change the name of my meeting tomorrow to 'haircut'," without error.
All things considered, using Siri to make changes to your calendar is probably slightly faster than tinkering with events yourself, but not by much. You'll also have to contend with Siri mishearing your commands -- we asked for our meeting at two tomorrow to be changed to four, but Siri heard it as "changed to fall" and tried to reschedule the meeting to 21 December. Bad Siri.
Texts and email
Siri can send texts or emails to people in your contacts book. Issue an order such as, "Text Luke 'are you free this evening?'" and Siri will usually get the message, though you run the risk of Siri messing up your actual message.
It doesn't send it straight away, so there's no chance of accidentally texting your boss something lewd, but in our experience getting it right takes a few attempts. At which point we asked ourselves whether we'd be better off just typing the text out in the text or email apps.
You might have a better time of it if you say something like, "Text Luke," and then read out the content of your text when Siri asks what you actually want to say. But again, introducing more steps makes using Siri less compelling.
Siri does best when you keep it simple, and you can't get much more basic than reminders. Siri works with the new Reminders app in iOS 5, which is essentially a fancy to-do list. Impressively, location-based Reminders worked quite well.
We tried, "Remind me to do the washing when I get home," and Siri was able to make a Reminders entry titled, "Do the washing" which would go off when our phone recognised that it was near the location we'd marked as 'home' in our contacts book. Not bad at all.
Siri does a pretty decent job of looking up weather reports, and can handle dates and locations. There's a limit to how far in the future it can see the forecast, because it seems to be drawing its data from the built-in Weather app, which is powered by Yahoo, and can only see five days ahead.
As we've shown, Siri works best when it's issued with simple requests that involve the iPhone's built-in apps. But again, the simplest tasks are the ones it's easiest to just do yourself, so whether you actually end up using Siri for these things remains to be seen.
Siri's biggest failing is that it can't look up local information in the UK, because Apple doesn't have a deal with any UK providers of that local info. As a result, asking Siri, "Where's the nearest hairdresser?" or, "What's the best restaurant in London?" it will spit back a curt, "I can only look for businesses in the United States, and when you're using US English. Sorry about that."
Well, apologise all you like Siri, but it won't get us to McDonald's any quicker.
Siri is much more useful across the pond, because it has access to this local information. Not having it really does hamper Siri's usefulness, because unlike other commands that basically make simple requests of the iPhone 4S' built-in apps, these location-based queries are the kind of thing that would take a little while to search for on Google, or would require searching across several different apps.
Contacts and calories
Siri isn't allowed to add contacts to your iPhone, which is a little annoying, and it also can't open apps for some reason, feebly offering, "I'd like to, but I'm not allowed. Sorry about that." Presumably these access restrictions are a security measure, but it's still frustrating to run into these roadblocks.
A spot of good news is that Siri can count calories, thanks to Wolfram Alpha. Ask it, "How many calories in a pint of beer?" and it'll cough up a dismaying list of booze-related nutritional facts.
It might not stop us popping down our local, but if you're into fitness or generally keeping an eye on your food intake, the ability to quickly check calorie info might prove handy.
Your own personal comedian
As you'd hope, Apple has programmed Siri to respond to a host of more light-hearted enquiries, such as, "What's the meaning of life?" ("42"), or "Beam me up," ("Sorry Captain, your TriCorder is in Airplane Mode.")
You'll probably squeeze a few hours of fun out of asking Siri every daft question that comes to mind, and occasionally it'll surprise you with a funny or helpful response. Long-term these tricks won't be too useful, but they're a happy diversion for now.
Is Siri any good?
Siri has real potential -- this is probably the best voice-control tech we've ever used. But that's really not saying very much. Voice-controlled tech has long been a sci-fi dream, but the reality is that it usually gets your commands wrong, or if it understands you, the AI behind the system isn't usually smart enough to figure out what you want to do.
Siri is quite accurate, and while it makes a lot of mistakes it understands what you're saying most of the time. But when it often takes more than one attempt to get Siri to do what you want, it's hard to muster up the energy to make it your first port of call. We quickly resorted to adding events, texting friends and looking stuff up using our boring old fingers, because we knew it was more reliable.
As we've already stated, Siri will be more useful if Apple can add local data, because it's something that can be awkward to search for yourself. It's impressive tech and sporadically useful, but if you're after a super-intelligent robot butler that will cater to your every whim, Siri is not the droid you're looking for.