By Dan Moren
January 15, 2015 8:04 AM PT
Wish List: Siri for OS X
I know, right? We’ve had a voice-controlled intelligent assistant on our iPhones since 2011 and on our iPads since 2012, but on the Mac, nothing. Yes, the speech-to-text dictation feature arrived in Mountain Lion and in Mavericks we got enhanced (read: offline) dictation.
But still no Siri.
Siri has its detractors, but as folks like John Gruber have noted, it does seem to be improving, at least in terms of performance. There are certain features that I use it for frequently: checking the temperature, adding reminders to a list, sending texts while in the car, and so on.
Here’s the thing: too many people call Siri a failure because it’s not better at everything. But it doesn’t need to replace conventional inputs like keyboards, pointing devices, and remotes; it can live along side them. Really, it just needs to be better at some things—and there’s no question that it is.
So, would it be useful on the Mac?
I maintain yes—with a couple of caveats. Only one major improvement came to Siri in iOS 8: the “Hey Siri” feature. I’d say that’s critical to the best possible use case scenario for Siri on OS X. Right now, the Hey Siri feature on iOS is limited to use when the device is plugged in.1 Given that your desktop Macs are always plugged in (and your laptops have a much higher capacity battery), they could presumably listen for Hey Siri all the time. And the higher processing power of Macs combined with their much more permissive architecture could be harnessed to let Siri do more than it can do now. Combining Siri with Automator and Apple Script, for example, could allow for much more powerful and user-created capabilities.
This isn’t anything new, by the way. Old school Mac users may remember all too well the voice control options that date back to the classic OS. A vestige of them still remains in OS X, as it happens, squirreled away under the Accessibility preference pane; there you can associate a phrase with some sort of action. But it lacks the innate intelligence of Siri: you can’t ask it questions, it can’t really look information up, etc. More than anything, it’s simply a set of voice-activated macros.
I don’t know if most Mac users would take advantage of Siri, but it could open up some pretty interesting possibilities. Imagine if your iPhone, iPad, and Macs were all front ends to a single instance of Siri that’s optimized for you, learning what tools you use, what information you want, and so on. All of it available simply by saying “Hey Siri”—or, hopefully, some name of your choice: “Computer,” “Jarvis,” etc.
Perhaps that triggers worry of some sort of HAL- or Ultron-like malevolent AI, I don’t know. To the Star Trek nerd in me, the idea of a computer available to answer questions addressed seems awesome. Amazon’s after something very similar with the Echo, but there’s certainly an element of suspicion that accompanies it—Amazon’s core business, after all, is retail, so where’s the catch?2
Adding Siri to the Mac probably isn’t a high priority for Apple, honestly, and after seeing three major versions of the OS come and go without bringing the virtual assistant to the Mac, I wouldn’t be shocked if this year’s upgrade (Big Sur? Redwood? Alcatraz?) left it on the wayside once again. But if Apple’s serious about improving Siri, and if Amazon’s Echo gains any traction, I think the company really should consider adding the Mac to the fold.
With one exception, as my friends Lex Friedman and John Moltz informed me: when Siri has delivered you a result, you can use “Hey Siri” at the Siri screen. It’s almost an interactive command prompt. ↩
If it were a Google product, for example, we’d all be pretty confident Google was using the info to target ads better. ↩
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