Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Siri Matters.....

The iPhone4S has been derided as a minor upgrade by many in the press, but its presenters were somber for reasons that became apparent 24 hours later to the public.  But the highlight of the presentation was SIRI - a software Artificial Intelligence program built into the 4S. 

I have been using Siri on my iphone 4 for the past year, but it was only useful for restaurants.  I did not really need it for anything else.  What Apple has done is to transform Siri into an Artificial Intelligence application that not only obeys commands - something that the Android users have been ranting about for over a year - but appreciates context.   I am not going to go into specifics because you can view that on You tube

Where Siri comes into play is in the arena of disabilities.  At the end of the video above is a young blind lady using the device. She is able to dictate a message replying to a message that was received.  In regards to this, someone jokingly responded on Youtube that she would have to find the phone to use it.  But jokes aside, this is a really useful tool if you are disabled.  Not just for the blind.

I have a patient who was once a computer programmer and who worked as a nuclear scientist, but is now confined to working in a hardware store due to his disability.  He became disgruntled 2 years ago because his Parkinsons disease was not responding to his medications.  He was unable to write things down, but was able to work and live on his own.  He relied on his telephone - then a Palm Treo because he was able to tap the keys for appointments.  He came up with his own syntax, shortening words as much as possible.  So he would use "mn" for morning "tk" for take etc.  It would take him 2 minutes to type a sentence.  He was weary of buying an iPhone because of the lack of tactile feedback, but he welcomed the ability to do one thing that he saw on a presentation a year ago.  Phil Schiller presented a special feature in the email app that made my patient smile.  Since he used his device to mainly to make appointments and to attempt to answer email, he was able to tap on a date in his email and an appoinment would be automatically set up.  I actually do this a lot with email invitations and conferences.  The following is from About.Com on how to do this with your iPhone, if you have not done it before (

Yet, he took back the iPhone, because it was too difficult to type.  He needed the tactile feedback.  He settled for a regular Razr because of the predictive text, before eventually buying a Blackberry.  I couldn't understand the Razr purchase, but understood the tactile issues necessitating the need for the Blackberry.   But through it all, I remember him saying the following:  "If I could just tell the damn thing what to do, I'd be happy."  He had tried a Droid in the store, but found it lacking in some of the features that he needed.  It is possible that the iPhone 4S may be the phone that he needs.  Obviously real world use will dictate the reality of this device, but it looks promising for the many people with disabilities.

If he has not done so already, I plan to show him the video above when he comes to his next appointment.  For those missing the importance of Siri, which appears to be hardware dependent and hence the importance of the iPhone 4S, you should know that for many disabled people, the sheer act of holding a phone in one hand can be as difficult as writing a note.   For the patient in question, his constant shaking, particularly when he becomes nervous, makes writing near impossible and texting a chore.  This is why Siri matters.

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