Still the iPhone 4S is the next best thing. It has all new guts: new chip, new camera, and new antennas. It just happens to look exactly like the iPhone 4. This makes the iPhone 4S unveiling today at Apple’s Corporate Campus feel a little like a non-event. That’s too bad, because I counted at least three important stories coming out of Cupertino today.
Yes, Apple CEO Cook did say, “and for the first time, Sprint”. But that was it. It was so casual that some audience members I spoke to almost missed it.
Underplayed or not, a Sprint iPhone is big news. Sprint has 35 million postpaid customers, many of which I’m sure have always wanted an iPhone. When I asked on Twitter whether or not Sprint customers are excited about the iPhone 4S, I immediately got this response: “HELL YES. Free from Android.” Another told me her husband, who is on Sprint, was ready to go to the Apple store this morning. This is the definition of pent-up demand. As I’ve said before, Sprint customers do have other slab phone options (Android), but the cachet of an iPhone remains, and I bet Apple sells a boatload to Sprint customers.
Siri: The Intelligent Assistant
I’ve been looking at voice recognition technology since the early 1990s. Both IBM and Microsoft spent years integrating it with their operating systems (OS/2 had one of the most advanced voice systems I had ever seen—at least up until the mid-90s). However, both companies failed to stir up much enthusiasm for the technology among consumers. The truth was this: old-school voice recognition (VR) required tons of training, and most users gave up long before they ever started to get any value out of it.
Things started to change when Dragon Naturally Speaking came along in the late 90s. The product required little training and was remarkably accurate. Nuance now owns them and is generally known as a leader in VR. Still, voice recognition usually fails when it comes to understanding context. Siri, which uses Nuance’s VR technology, aptly breaks that barrier and, at least in the demos I saw, actually appears to understand what the speaker is saying.
Typical voice recognition demos rarely go as smoothly as Apple’s Siri demo went today. It was flawless and stunning. As Apple explained it, Siri understands “concepts”. If true, then Siri has a form of artificial intelligence. Here were some of the examples I saw of Siri in action:
Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS Software at Apple, asked Siri, “How many days are there until Christmas?” Siri quickly responded that she was checking and then she displayed an accurate result. Forestall then asked, “Give me directions to Hoover Tower” Siri replied,: “Here are directions to Hoover tower” and then it displayed the map.
In every instance, Siri showed off its deep integration with the phone and its native apps, including Maps, reminders, Calendar, Contacts and more.
We may soon forget that Apple failed to deliver an iPhone 5 on this day, but I doubt we’ll ever forget the first time we saw and heard Siri: The Intelligent Assistant in action.
Tim Cook took the stage and immediately noted that this was his first product announcement as CEO. Still, he didn’t seem nervous.
On the contrary, his near-country cadence was calm, even and, at times, mesmerizing. However, Cook wasn’t all that interested in the stage and ceded the platform to Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, for the lion’s share of major announcements. Cook handled where Apple is now and how it got here. He cracked a couple of jokes, but I don’t recall any Jobsian-style zingers. Cook did not pull a one-more thing out of his back pocket. No, he simply thanked us all for coming and then quietly left the stage.
Steve Jobs did not show up and Cook, smartly, did not try to be him. It’s the end of an era at Apple and, clearly, the beginning of a new one.