Apple goes for commanding lead with Siri in iPhone 4S

At Apple’s much-anticipated iPhone press event yesterday, the company launched a new handset – the iPhone 4S.

Many of those in attendance or watching the event streamed online had been expecting to see the launch of an iPhone 5, and there has been disappointment across the web at the sight of a handset that looks no different to the iPhone 4. But there are notable improvements under the bonnet.

The key new feature that could prove the real draw for consumers and enhance the user experience is the integrated voice-recognition technology, Siri. Apple generated much excitement by naming the launch event “Let’s Talk iPhone”, and it is now apparent why.

Last year, Apple acquired a company called Siri, which develops software that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing. It has now packaged the technology as an integral part of the iPhone 4S, which acts as a personal assistant to allow users to control practically all of its functions with their voice.

Siri allows users to find out information, such as the weather, directions to a venue or movie show times. It also allows users to listen to text messages and respond to them with voice and to access and modify content in the address book and calendar.

Apple claims that Siri even adapts to the user’s individual preferences over time and personalises results specific to the user. And according to Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, Apple competitors will be forced to integrate similar functionality to Siri in their new handsets.

“Voice recognition technology is nothing new – Google has its Google Voice Search for Android and Windows Phone 7 uses Bing voice search. However, these technologies are software based and are not integrated with the hardware. They do not take into account the quality of the handset, such as the clarity of the microphone, and in practice, that’s what makes the iPhone 4S’s voice recognition much more reliable than anything else out there.”

“Siri will push the whole industry into taking the voice recognition engine and integrating it with the hardware, rather than having voice recognition as a software add-on.”

The Siri app, which was also a standalone application available on Apple’s App Store, was discontinued just one hour after the announcement of iPhone 4S.  This means that Siri is now an integral part of iPhone 4S and not a third party application.

“Users will want to buy iPhone 4S to enjoy Siri but is this enough for users to upgrade?” questioned Saadi.

Other new features of the iPhone 4S include a faster dual-core processor, improved battery life, integration with Apple’s new could service, iCloud, 1080p HD video recording, an 8 megapixel camera and the ability to roam between CDMA and GSM networks.

However, despite the addition of Siri, some analysts were unimpressed by the new offering.

“Whilst Apple announced improvements in the hardware performance and on the service layer, it has been let down somewhat by having almost no change in the user experience and in the industrial design,” said David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“Unfortunately for Apple, this is happening at a time when competitors are aggressively bringing new products to market with superior user experience in the form of wider and better screen, intuitive UIs, and more integrated apps,” he said.

“As a result, iPhone 4S could be the first disappointing device since the launch of the brand.”

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