The iPhone 4S Is Siriously Smarter

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written byMrinal Desai, an early employee of LinkedIn who is also co-founder of CrossLoop and addappt. You can follow him on Twitter.

Like many, I am absolutely amazed by Siri, the talking assistant on the iPhone 4S.  It was the one thing that really stood out for me during the launch event when Scott Forstall introduced it ten days ago. And now we finally get to play with it.

After an Apple product launch, my usual evening at home is telling (umm .. selling) my wife the new features and how I need to have it. It’s a path of persuasion of how the product is not a want. Those “needs” now have been met by the prior generations of the iPhone, both generations of iPad, Apple TV, MacBook, MacBook Pro and a home surrounded by wireless bits on an Apple router.  But when I went home that night, it was all about Siri—”the other person” in my life. I never uttered a word about the specs of the dual core A5 processor or how it has 7x better graphics or even the HSPA+ download speeds—she does not care. An average person, unlike many of us, couldn’t care less for what is under the hood, couldn’t care less whether the product is open or closed, couldn’t care less about Flash, HTML5 or native apps. I found myself listing all the scenarios of how productive I was going to be, how finally something that can actually be used was here. It would be the perfect companion to get all my to-dos done!

Reminders are a common work flow issue for me and I always add them to my calendar.  Setting up meetings—we do that all the time. Rerouting as we drive—very frequent. Often working in the ‘Indian Stretchable Time’ zone, I find myself sending texts to people that I am running late. There is an entire industry of virtual assistants out there because we want to focus on important things, not busy things. I can imagine a few more Siri applications in the future that I know I would love to have:

  • Parking space as you drive around looking for one
  • Flight status: Siri, is United flight # 1234 on time?
  • Travel bookings: Siri, what is the cheapest ticket to Boston on Deceomber 15th? Kayak in the future?
  • More local: search for a type of business, say a tailor. Is the business open? Siri, call the business. Pay per call advertising?
  • Deals:  Is there a deal within a mile of where I am at?
  • Movies: Siri, can you tell me where The Ides of March is running? Is the movie ‘Delhy Belly’ available on Netflix Instant? If yes, please add it to my queue.
  • Commerce: Siri, can you tell me if a pair of Adidas Forest Hills are available at a store nearby? After Siri finds it (if available), Siri can then help me map the directions
  • Social: Headed to a meeting. Siri, can you tell me who are my mutual contacts with this person?

Asking questions is an inherent quest to learn, to search. Add context and meaning and suddenly we go far beyond keywords. One of the continuous things Google works on is figuring out context.  When you search with keyword “apple”, did you mean to look for the fruit or the company? Apple just changed the rules of the game—again.  It made the phone smarter, not just do more.

Finally and very importantly, user acquisition. Being in a noisy world and a salesman within, one thing that I obsess about a lot is user acquisition. I am a hungry student of product design elements that inherently attract new users. I am hungry to learn why people buy what they buy; why do they use what they use. How did they discover what they use?

So rewind back a little.  I remember when I got my first iPhone (3GS). I was so giddy with excitement with my new toy that I couldn’t stop telling everyone I knew about it. Not only that, I did demos too. I convinced as many as I could to let go of their Blackberrys (I switched from one) and move on. The closer was always apps. My favorite one was Ocarina. I would blow through the microphone exhibiting my hidden musical skills (or lack thereof). The smoothly rotating globe with music being played all around the world never ceased to draw the “wows” and the “oohs”—and I assure you that they were not about how well I played the Ocarina. It was the single largest and most well lubricated organic word-of-mouth machine I had ever seen. It was a lot like the advertising we all do when we carry out shopping bags with a ‘Macy’s’ logo on it or akin to wearing a Gap hoodie or when we wear a Barcelona team shirt. We pride ourselves in the product we associate with and we are more than comfortable paying (big dollars when it comes to European football with jerseys at $70-$80 a pop) to advertise them. Its an emotion so strong that it soon becomes an integral part of our identity that we wish to share.

With Siri, needless to say the millions (Apple reported a more than million pre-orders, and analysts now expect millions more to be sold this quarter) of iPhone 4S users are going to be marching around showing off their new friend Siri to friends, family and colleagues. If it works as demoed, it is going to make everyone want one. So in a genius stroke, Apple handed each of us ammunition to evangelize and advertise their brand through a product that is on us all the time. With Siri, they have also given us a reason to take out the phone from our pockets even more often now and demo it to complete strangers.

Deep within, I am fearfully hopeful that juuuuust maybe, Siri will be able be to recognize my first name—something that most people send through a paper shredder. And yes, if you forget your anniversary in the future and have a 4S, blame it on Siri. I know I would have loved to have it on my last anniversary.