Apple’s Siri Patent Application Hints At Apps Becoming A Background Service Layer

Apple has filed a sizeable 51-page patent application continuation with the USPTO according to AppleInsider, which covers Siri in general terms, described broadly as an “Intelligent Automated Assistant.” The filing includes screenshots of Siri pre-Apple acquisition, and generally describes in detail the system however many hundreds of millions of iOS device users are already using. But it also sketches a system in which Siri is much more in the driver seat, handling the task of finding the right app for the right job while the user just makes his or her needs known.

“Many users may have difficulty even discovering what functionality and/or information is available on their electronic devices or on various websites,” reads part of the filing. “Thus, such users may become frustrated over overwhelmed, or may simply be unable to use the resources available to them in an effective manner.”

That leads to user confusion, Apple claims in the application, owing to separate user interfaces and constantly switching between. The language suggests that ultimately, Apple sees Siri as a sort of Grand Central Station for routing information requests and task completion from iPhone and iPad users, taking care of the “how” details and returning only the information needed.

Apple also includes a lengthy list of categories where it might deliver information, including notes, calendar events, online purchases, travel info, nearby business and more. Most of those are already covered by the current Siri implementation, but some, like online book and DVD purchases and hotel booking info, aren’t yet in its roster of available services, indicating Apple is thinking about expanding what falls under Siri’s purview.

Siri is definitely a long-term play for Apple, and we’ve seen the company introduce a number of new services for its virtual assistant in iOS 6, including movie showtimes, box scores for sports, restaurant reservations via OpenTable and Yelp reviews. Apple’s also been known for taking elements of the computing interface that were once user-accessible, like the file system, and hiding it away to enhance simplicity, as it does on iOS. Turning apps into a service layer that’s designed not as individual experiences, but as integrated parts of an overall whole would be in keeping with its desire to try to make the user experience of its mobile devices as uniform as possible (see Apple’s user interface design guidelines).

Of course, refiguring apps as services would be a significant change in the way iOS works, and in how developers operate within the Apple mobile ecosystem, so it’s likely not a change that will happen anytime soon, if at all. But it is an interesting look at what the next big sea change in mobile commuting could look like.