Would Apple give up one of the big reasons to pull out your wallet on its latest iPhone by offering its hottest feature to users with older models?
iOS hacking blog Jailbreak Nation says that may be in the cards, in report claiming that Apple is testing Siri, its voice assistant feature that is exclusive to the iPhone 4S, on older iOS devices including the iPhone 4.
The rumor comes on the heels of efforts to get the feature to work on the iPhone 4 without Apple's permission, requiring the use of a device that's been jailbroken. That means users can write files and install applications on their iOS device without going through Apple's App Store.
One such effort had a breakthrough last week, with its creator finding a way to get Siri's commands to go through Apple's servers, which play gatekeeper to make sure the device that's sending voice snippets is an iPhone 4S. In a demonstration provided to blog 9to5mac, the feature is shown working just as fast as on the 4S, which sports a beefier processor than the one in the iPhone 4. Yet that solution is currently unavailable to those with jailbroken devices and has no release timetable.
The real question is what Apple has to gain from bringing the feature to older devices. No doubt it would delight iPhone 4 users to get Siri without having to buy new hardware, and possibly extending their carrier contracts. But it would also cut down on the number of reasons the iPhone 4S is an improvement on its predecessor. That said, the data Apple collects from Siri in the form of user queries and voice sampling could be a huge asset to the company, which also operates its own advertising business called iAd, making a larger group of users statistically advantageous. The same goes for keeping an eye on the kinds of searches and activities users are doing on their devices, which could provide valuable intelligence on what to add or improve in future iterations.
One very important thing to note here is that Apple's history of iOS updates thus far would suggest the company would not add such a high-profile feature. For instance, Voice Over--which is Siri's predecessor--was available only to iPhone 3GS owners, due in part to the requirement the 3GS' faster processor. Likewise, multitasking, which was the headlining feature of iOS 4.0, could only work on the iPhone 3GS and higher. Siri differs from those efforts in that most of the hard work is being done on Apple's servers, which are piped with a user's voice commands then sent back as something the phone can use.
Siri remains in beta, with Apple planning to add additional features to it in the form of extra languages, localizations for its Maps app, and support for local searches, all things Apple says will be delivered in 2012. The voice assistant was previously available as a standalone application on the App Store, which was shelved the same week Siri the iPhone 4S feature was formally announced.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.