The Evolution of the Mac, Pt 1: Siri

| Analysis

The Mac must continue to evolve. Technology alone will drive it forward in era of tablets. But the Mac legacy also supports an enduring mindset, certain operations and peripherals, and a wealth of capabilities and apps. How should the Mac evolve with that spirit in mind? In Part 1 of this series, we look at Siri integration with the Mac.

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Often, for convenience, it's easy to think in a binary form. (Like the binary language of moisture evaporators.) However, given the rich and lengthly heritage of the Mac, it's helpful to dig much deeper.

In the case of the Mac, it has a 28 year history, and that has carried along with it an immense culture. Millions of users grew up with the Mac, and while its technology has evolved, if one were to place a modern Mac, keyboard and mouse next to a 1984 Mac, one would notice the huge technical advances yet remain delighted by the purity of the lineage.

2013 vs 1984.  Vast changes but unmistakable lineage.

What that suggests, I think, is that despite the radical rate of change going on today in technology, certain aspects of the Mac need to be preserved.  In other words, the Mac's steady evolution isn't going to take a radical, binary turn. Rather, in time, we will see further development that remains true to the Mac's legacy of operational design yet continues to advance the state of the art. One of those advances right now is Siri.

Siri's Limitations

Siri was originally implemented on the iPhone. That's a small device with a limited display and capabilities. iOS, derived from OS X, has been considerably simplified. That is, iOS is a mobile OS and doesn't have to support the kinds of activities a full-blown Mac Pro tower does with its sophisticated UNIX-based OS X.

What that means is that the limits of Siri, as a new technology, are acceptable on an iPhone. Basic information lookup and the launching of apps "Launch contacts," is more or less all that's required in the mobile environment.

The Mac is a different story. Over the years, a wealth of capabilities have evolved on the Mac. Users of the Mac would have natural expectations of Siri that might not, would not, be able to be fulfilled.

Siri, install gcc, launch Eclipse, copy down this C++ script, execute it, and then set up an Automator action to run the script daily. And let me see that data on the Amazon rain forest I was reviewing last week.

Siri is, in essence, an immature young lady (in the United States, anyway), not yet ready to flex her muscles or be pressed into the highest level of service in the full environment of the Mac. Apple, well aware of what Siri might be asked to do on a Mac -- and fail -- would naturally be mindful of a bad user experience that could soil Siri's fine reputation.

If it's true that Apple might bring Siri to the Mac is OS X 10.9, then I would expect that the challenge would be to very carefully define and market just exactly what Siri could and could not do on a Mac in the first release. And there is good motivation: Apple would like Siri to be our favorite search engine, as our Bryan Chaffin has reminded us.

It's the Network, Stupid

Siri also depends on a network connection. For a mobile device, that's a no brainer. One expects to have an ever present network connection for an iPhone or iPad. However, Macs are occasionally used in environments where there is no network connection: submarines, some surface ships*, a government or military SCIF, wilderness or military outposts, and so on.

Siri's capabilities would have to be partitioned so that she can perform certain functions in isolation, benefitting from the power of a Mac's CPU, or else the user would have to be aware that Siri can't be used in certain situations.

Working out these details is almost certainly the reason Siri hasn't arrived on the Mac. However, as the technology of Siri evolves, these problems will be solved.

The Next Step

Integrating Siri with the Mac will be just one ore of those subtle steps that moves the Mac along on its technology arc. What it will lead to isn't yet clear. Will Siri eliminate the need for the mouse and keyboard early on, or will it have to coexist with those tools for many more years while she matures and Apple can get some feedback from its OS monitoring tools? Probably the latter.

Setting expectations and delivering a first class user experience is what Apple is all about. When Siri can do that on a Mac, in some initial, beneficial way Apple will deliver it. But Siri may still spend its formative years on the Mac growing, evolving and depending on the powerful CPUs available on that platform.

In Part 2, I'll look at touch screen Macs.

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* Years ago, my wife worked for the U.S. Antarctic Program. Aboard the ice breaker she worked on, (Nathan B. Palmer) there was no continuous Internet connection. But they had a boatload of Macs. (Internet access is better now.)

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11 Comments Leave Your Own

bdkennedy1

I don’t think you would be able to use Siri in an office or crowded environment.

John Martellaro

bdkennedy1: I would expect the noise cancellation microphones and technology of the iPhone would be brought to the Mac.

geoduck

bdkennedy1
I agree wholeheartedly. The last thing you’d want in Cubeland is everyone yakking at their computers at the same time. Even if noise cancelling were implemented it would make for a very loud, unpleasant environment.
In the home, I think people are going to find a keyboard quicker and more accurate than talking. Siri is effective on a mobile device because there isn’t a keyboard handy.

Gareth Harris

John, This is like the mating of elephants - there is a lot of noise on a very high level but the outcome is a long way off.  Along the way, we are often overly optimistic and underestimate the difficulty of our goals.

In the late 60s, I worked on the parser for a one of the first database systems. Together with the first supercomputer, linguists promised machine translation. Bzzzzzzz - not yet.
Twenty years later, about 1987?, we saw the Apple Knowledge Navigator video.  Bzzzzzzzz - not yet. But you could see it was possible if not probable.

About yet another twenty years and our phones are computers - thousands of times faster and cheaper than my ancient supercomputer. Voice recog is almost working. Watson wins Jeopardy.  I use Siri frequently.  We are not there yet, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel is not another train.

Sometimes we get surprise after surprise - touch screens come way down in cost but may be suddenly replaced by leap motion, for example.

My point: there is sufficient technology on the shelf now to do almost anything we can think of, but the breakthroughs are still going to be at the human / machine interface where our limitation is our imagination. I am reminded of Einstein’s comment: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

iJack

As much as I want Siri on my Mac (“Siri, google images of Julianna Marguiles”), I’m thinking there are, and will always be many tasks we can do quicker with our keyboards, track pads and mice. For example, I can’t imagine creating architectural or engineering drawings, nor editing video by giving directions.

Dean Lewis

Of there are tons of things we can do quicker or better with keyboards and mice/trackpads. However, if I want to come home, tell the computer to do some things or give me my messages while I change clothes, look up and read things to me while my head is in the refrigerator and I’m making dinner, find and start television program for me as I carry my food to the living room (dining room? Bah…)—that’s where these kind of voice recognition assistants are going to excel.

Can I do all of that now? Kind of. Once the real recognition and integration are down, we’re all going to wonder why we did without it for so long. smile

Lee Dronick

Remember that not everyone works in cubicle, a lot of people work in a private office, at home, or some such place. Also Siri on a Mac does not mean that it would be the only way to interface with it, it would be an option.

PSMacintosh

“Also Siri on a Mac does not mean that it would be the only way to interface with it, it would be an option.”
I hope so.  But you never know when Apple is going to pull one of it’s “we know better than you know what you want and need” stunts and decide that they don’t support the keyboard and mouse anymore, just Siri (and touch screen)....not that I really expect that to happen.

PSMacintosh

I’m a man.
I’m not sure that I want to increase my daily allotment of words…..and have to talk so much more…... constantly talking to my devices.
On the other hand, maybe I’ll just talk less to the live women in my life (and let them complain about it to Apple).  Ha!

Bazz

“That is, iOS is a mobile OS and doesn’t have to support the kinds of activities a full-blown Mac Pro tower does with its sophisticated UNIX-based OS X.”  —-  My understanding is that iOS is FULL-blown UNIX. May be powerful GPUs are missing and a Maths processor.

An iPhone5 is as powerful as a 1998 iMac! So a ‘13 Mac is what? Same? More? Less than iPhone?

Siri comes from the founders of Mathematica with his intelligent questioning search.
“When does the last flight to LA leave JFK?”

It is something Google can’t answer at the moment.
It shows Jobs left thinking brain!

And that question above requires tons of computer power and knowledge.
Semantics implied objects definitions and finally a fruitful search that gives the RIGHT answer.
Siri is the first iteration to HAL!

BUT a dumb computer only accepts garbage in as it follows the lines of programing code.  It at present can’t tell garbage from gold!

What are iMacs used for:
letter -  manuscript writing   Siri will work! Provided the error rate is less than 1 in million.
Math analysis – do you want chi squared or standard deviation with that.  NO way!
Editing magazine layout – “left rudder a bit” NO
Cleaning photos NO

In the above the question of Blackheads – Experiments – Editing etc are too constrained to allow a dick head computer to take over the mission. They can do the easy bits but to land on the moon needs a human to say not here there!  Something some iMap users don’t understand!

An infinity of computers will produce “Hamlet” but one man did it faster and easier and without electricity!

Most humans can survive with a iPhone or iPad at most but some humans need grunt!

The design of the iPhone needs CAD ( can you imagine an engineer saying 3568946 pixels X axis 1003458368 Y axis etc to put a line in a drawing Bullshit. And an touch screen to preempt your next blog is just as bad a 500 pixel point (your finger)  will take weeks to precisely set!

The Mac and iP*** MUST diverge to evolve!

Apple did a dead end evolve when they dumbed down iMovie etc. Professionals want accuracy precision exactitude and not approximations or cheapness otherwise nothing will work!  It is this group that the Mac should focus on. And the next level up small super computers. OK so the market is small but so too was the iPad till people fell in love with it! There’s millions of scientists who want more grunt!

Most don’t need that grunt – that’s iOS place.

Apple has everything in hand to make the next Mac leap except vision! Because they don’t know what they have.
As I said to Stevee Baby when he was alive!

If Apple only does iOS it fails.

Keith Gardner

The “sniff test” has to be used a bit more here. I think it’s pretty unlikely that the reason Apple hasn’t released Siri on the Mac is that some Macs are used on submarines. I would argue that when in use, most Macs are on the Internet. Either they’re in an office or they’re in a WiFi hot spot. I don’t want to say that “nobody” uses a Mac off-line, but it’s not a very limiting proposition for software developers to assume that their users will be connected.

Next, I have to ask Bazz what his conjecture is based on, that it’s the “professional users” who need “accuracy precision exactitude and not approximations or cheapness” that Apple should focus on. I like to think that Apple has some pretty smart people, in industrial design, software and hardware engineering, marketing, market research, etc. In all aspects of doing what they do.

One of the things that I think Apple has been particularly consistent with is their “what comes in the box” software. It works for many people, and that’s their goal. They want the typical user to be able to open the box, plug it in, and get to work, using familiar, easy to use tools. They are not in business to compete with Adobe, Microsoft, Avid, or other professional-level software developers. They want to encourage these software developers to develop for the Mac platform, not discourage them.

Anyway, all that aside, I would very much like to have the option of Siri on my Mac. Actually no, I am still waiting for the Knowledge Navigator! I want intelligent agents, the kind of stuff that General Magic was trying to develop, when? 15 or more years ago? How time flies; and yet, how little distance we sometimes seem to cover.

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