Apple's Siri is coming of age. No, there are no signs of pop music addiction, menstruation or mood swings, but this week we saw some other strong markers of the personal assistant's maturation.
First, there's the voice change. As Apple's Eddy Cue showed off earlier this week, Siri has a more mature, smoother, stronger and less-robotic voice. And now there are two Siris -- one with a male and another with a female voice.
Siri's physical appearance is also now more developed. In iOS 7, the interface will be cleaner, with a translucent effect that will simply overlay whatever is on the screen. There will also be more information displayed right in the app. Part of that is because Siri also seems to be capable of holding more mature conversations than before. Voice recognition is said to have been improved, and Siri now knows how to use Wikipedia, Bing (instead of Google) and Twitter to find your answers.
Siri's growing up and should now be considered an adult, at least a young adult, by industry standards. Apple released the artificially intelligent assistant two years ago in beta and then released subsequent feature updates last year in iOS 6.
Still, iPhone owners, while enamored at first with trying to converse with their new robotic friend, tend to forget about it. And that's not just something I've noticed among friends and family. Data have said the same -- the service is underused, even if people think it is fun.
I'm one of those people. I hardly ever hold down on the home button to ask Siri a question.
I do use another assistant on my iPhone, though. It is made by Google. Google added its Google Now conversational assistant and service to its app two months ago. Some have found Google Now's voice recognition to be more accurate and its search results more compelling. As with Siri, you can ask the assistant "Where is the closest Chinese restaurant?" or "What time is 'The Great Gatsby' playing?"
But the main reason I use Google Now is because it anticipates my informational needs. It knows what I'm going to be doing next. It looks at my calendar, my email and my other patterns and reminds me of my flights (complete with the airport terminal), how long it will take me to get to my next meeting or of the weather at my next stop. It's one of the most personal and personalized services I use.
It's an active assistant that's always working for me. It anticipates what I am going to need and doesn't wait for me to have to say anything out loud. It's just plain smarter than Siri.
From the outset, Siri was meant to be a "do engine." Before it was acquired by Apple in 2010, that's what the service set out to provide. Instead of being a search engine, it would do the things you needed done without your having to type them in. According to the Huffington Post's Bianca Bosker, the creators, before selling the company to Apple for more than a reported $200 million, wanted the service to be able to offer the same sort of anticipated assistance as Google Now. For example, it wanted to provide frustrated travelers with alternative flights if a flight delayed.
What we saw this week, wasn't that sort of functionality coming from Apple's budding humble assistant. What we saw was an assistant that, while physically growing into its own skin and voice, is still passive and doesn't quite understand us adults or our needs.
Sounds a lot like going through puberty. Let's just hope the process doesn't take too long for the snarky, yet friendly robot.