updated 08:29 am EDT, Wed June 19, 2013
Apple makes Siri more useful than ever before, expands iOS car functions
Siri is a feature that was unveiled with much fanfare during the iOS 5 launch two-years ago, bringing with it more fully featured voice actions to the iPhone. Although Siri has received a mixed reception from critics and users, Apple has continued to pursue the voice-controlled interface, giving it an all-new look and functional tweaks in the iOS 7 beta that help to refine the user experience. Has Apple done enough with the revisions in Siri to warrant a second look?
Siri gets a complete UI overhaul in iOS 7. The linen cloth look that is a part of Siri in iOS 6 has been replaced, in this instance with a transparent frosted glass pane as the backdrop. This effect can be seen throughout iOS to help users feel a sense of the context in which they are when launching the app - it is an integral part of the new 'layered' approach to the way the OS functions. As with just about all aspects of iOS 7, the new look is contemporary and is more effective at utilizing the available screen space to maximum advantage.
In addition to a new sound wave effect when Siri detects your voice, Apple has extensively used white text to present information. Photos and other images are still integrated in searches adding a splash of color, but the skeuomorphic effects previously seen when sports scores are presented in Siri in iOS 6, for example, have been ditched. As you can see the screen grabs below, the new look is much cleaner and more like what you would expect from a company that produces some of the sleekest hardware in the world.
In Apple's short run down on the updated Siri in iOS 7 during its WWDC Keynote last week, the company highlighted that a new more natural sounding male and female voice has been added to the mix. It also quickly added that Microsoft's Bing now powers Siri search (to some raised eyebrows), as it continues to move away from the integration of Google services as default functions in its mobile operating system. Among its new tricks, Siri can now also pull information directly from Wikipedia and Twitter. It can now also be asked to return missed calls, play voicemail and control the new iTunes Radio among other new capabilities.
Apple also introduced an extension of Siri Eyes Free called iOS in the Car. Sensing an opportunity to gain a foothold in the automotive world as it did with OEM iPod integration, Apple is now taking this to the next level. An iOS in the Car connected vehicle will display variations of the iOS 7 user interface designed specifically for suitability to the driving context. Siri remains a key component of iOS in the Car, allowing users to return missed calls, playback voicemail, while also reading received text messages and allowing you to dictate a reply.
The greatest failing of Siri for me continues to be that it is only really useful in quiet environments (like a car), or with headphones with a built-in mic when out in public. Even then I don't really want to use Siri when other people are around, as I would feel more than a little self-conscious. That said, I do use Siri regularly when driving, when setting reminders, getting directions, checking the weather, scheduling appointments and setting my alarm clock - just as long as I am out of the earshot of others.
Siri in iOS 7 looks better and is more functional than ever before. This is a familiar theme that has emerged in our closer examination of the new features in iOS 7. Apple has done a fantastic job of reinventing iOS with iOS 7, giving iPhone and iPad users a lot to look forward to when it debuts in the fall.
By Sanjiv Sathiah