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Texting Siri

No matter how enabling and useful Siri is, though, there will be times when it’s simply not possible or socially acceptable to talk out loud to our phones or tablets. In those situations, being able to type “Cupertino weather” or even “Text Georgia I’ll be late” would be incredibly useful.

(via Rene Ritchie, for iMore)

It took me a few days to realize just how spot on Rene is with his analysis in this piece. And what it implies for the future of voice-activated UI.

There’s a growing obsession with voice control of our computing devices. I remember the excitement around voice growing on a few occasions in the past. (Does anyone remember “My voice is my password”?) But now that the technology has finally gotten to be almost good enough, we’re hitting a fever pitch. Siri, Alexa, Echo—all of these products light up the pleasure centers of Star Trek geeks worldwide.

But here’s the thing: What makes the Echo or Siri useful is not the voice activation. It’s the (somewhat) intelligent response.

I’m not sure the next generation will see voice as a primary means to communicate. Siri/Alexa may be a stop gap for the current generation.

— Greg Pierce (@agiletortoise) May 6, 2016

I have nieces and nephews, and I never see them talking to their phones. They text. Even when they are communicating with someone in the same room. They don’t even want to talk to their friends, let alone their phones.

I’ve never been comfortable shouting “Hey Siri” across my office to wake up my phone. I’m equally uncomfortable when she talks back to me. But I love typing “Practice, Tuesday 6pm at Rivington” into Fantastical. My favorite thing about having driving directions on my Apple Watch is that I can turn off the voice prompts on my phone, which disturb my music, anyway, and replace them with taps on the wrist.

What’s worse than telling everyone in the room to shut up for a second so you can tell your TV to find the latest episode of Game of Thrones?

And let’s not forget accessibility. Voice UI is wonderful for the visually impaired. But voice-activated-only devices like the Echo are fairly inaccessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

I think Greg is right; my generation, the one that grew up on Star Trek, may still be fascinated with voice UI, but I don’t think it’s going to become a primary input or output method. It will always make sense in certain niches, I’m sure. And I’m glad the technology is getting better for those who need it. But becoming the dominant way we interface with computers? Hardly. Ride the New York City subway sometime, and then imagine all of those phones being controlled by voice. Yikes.

Having an intelligent assistant that can respond to our prompts no matter how we address it is far more important. I’m with Rene. A Spotlight text field should be able to do whatever Siri does. Don’t get caught up in the trend of talking to our devices; concentrate on expanding how Siri, Alexa, etc. interpret our prompts, spoken or otherwise. That’s the future.