Siri – A Metaphor That Defines The Future Of Local Search (And Everything Else)

This is not a tribute to Steve Jobs directly. Although in the end it may be one of his greatest legacies. Will Siri become the new Qwerty?

I have been in the technology field for over 30 years. I have seen a number of radical changes that became metaphors for how things were supposed to be done. Many, but certainly not all, of these metaphors were created at the hands of Steve Jobs.

QWERTY defined the keyboard. The Apple II defined a generation of PCs. Sony defined what the home video recorder should be. The Mac defined what a Window and Window based programs should behave like. The iPhone defined how touch functions on a smartphone and what a smartphone is.

These defining products and the companies that produce them don’t always win the battle in the market place for various reasons but the idea sticks. The technology becomes iconic and lays the path for others to follow. Sometimes the followers overtake the creators, sometimes the creators win. The market is a brutal overseer.

Siri, the natural language interface for the new iPhone 4s, is one such product. It may not be the product that wins the battle in the market place, it may not be the specific product feature that everybody has to have in their pockets in 2015 but if it isn’t, whatever is there will be like Siri.

Imagine a world where you say to your phone: Find me the best Asian restaurant within 25 miles. Or: Text my wife to meet me at 21. Or: Schedule an appointment for me with Joe the PR Guy and send him a text. Or: Tell my friends on Facebook that our team won!

All of the sudden the only thing that matters is the answer. Nothing else. You won’t be looking at a search box, you won’t be landing on someone’s home page, you won’t be looking at an ad…In fact you won’t be looking at anything.

You won’t need to. Not all of your interaction will be voice driven but depending on your mobile needs a large portion of it could be. You no longer need to look at your phone to enter a query in a search box. You just ask for the answer and it will just give it to you.

The answer can come from a single source or a range of sources. The brand of search engine is no longer important, the brand of phone that you are asking the question on is. Your only relationship is with the phone. Either it works or it doesn’t. Search engines and web brands could potentially fade in importance.

The winner in this next interface battle gets to pick where and who it gets the answer from. If Siri needs three data sources, it uses three data sources. If it needs four, it looks at four. That complexity is all hidden and the user not only doesn’t need to visit multiple websites, the user doesn’t even need a special app. Siri, or something like it, becomes the great equalizer for data sources. An OS for voice as it were. It handles the complexities. You just need to ask it.

Will it do what Apple says it will? There was a time when you couldn’t trust what Apple or any technology firm said. You had to have it proven to you. Even though this is a new Apple, one molded by the demanding perfectionism of Steve Jobs, this is one of those times when you will need to know that the natural language interface works and it works seamlessly.

If it does, it becomes THE WAY that you want to interact with the device. The new QWERTY as it were. Maybe not all all the time but certainly with mobile search and more frequently than not with mobile local search.

It also becomes the great disintermediator in mobile. It may be the greatest disintermediator of all time. If it works.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Siri - A Metaphor That Defines The Future Of Local Search (And Everything Else) by

5 thoughts on “Siri – A Metaphor That Defines The Future Of Local Search (And Everything Else)”

  1. I wonder what this is going to do for the way we educate ourselves. When you can ask anything and get an answer for everything how will it shape education? Will it free our minds from ordinary thinking to extraordinary thinking or will it dumb us all down? These are amazing times in which we live.

  2. @Boyd

    Great question!

    Although it is not much different than what we are doing now… For the forseable future it is just an alternative to searching and the short, repetitive tasks in our lives.

    Like any technology it is intrinsically neutral and the outcome can be a net gain or a net loss depending on its uses. I personally would put search as a net gain in that it gave me access to a wide variety of sources that I could not have accessed before. But in the end I still need to read, discuss, think and analyze to learn something and understand it.

    Certainly in the current context, where many are perhaps less educated and more self absorbed, it might serve as just one more distraction masking reality.

  3. Mike,
    I want you to know that your post, coupled with the embedded video, is the first piece I have read on this subject that has made me start to catch a glimpse of the potential ramifications of this technology. I have some questions and thoughts.

    1. Are we all about to be out of a job if this becomes the way people get their information?

    2. What will this do the way human beings talk? If you recall, I bought the ill-fated Nexus 1 and use its voice technology frequently for search. Now, it does not offer the complex range of actions hinted at in this video, but I can use my voice to search instead of my fingers and it does a pretty good job of understanding me. That being said, I talk strangely into the device. Sort of the same way I talk when a phone answering service has you speak your answers into the phone instead of using the number pad. My voice is louder than normal, more monotone and kind of robotic sounding in these cases. I don’t know if it’s actually necessary to talk like this, but for some reason, I unconsciously make myself sound like a ‘robot’ in order to have each word be clear. Will we all end up sounding like that eventually, in our daily speech?

    3. If one wants to keep being ‘important’ in the world of search, but Siri-type technology can pick just a few sources for its information, who comes out as a winner, in terms of companies that stay in business?

    It’s all way too big for me to comprehend yet, but I’d love to hear your further thoughts and want to thank you for this piece.


  4. RE
    1. Are we all about to be out of a job if this becomes the way people get their information?

    We are changing jobs every year whether we want to or not, we are in technology. The need for online Marketing won’t change, the way it is done might.

    2. What will this do the way human beings talk?

    One of the things that I learned with Google speech is that you have to talk like you search. It appears that with Siri (and my limited experience reinforces this) is that it searches like you talk. That is a huge difference

    3) who comes out as a winner, in terms of companies that stay in business?

    By their nature, disruptive solutions create all new winners and losers. I would hesitate to predict that as the future is unknowable. I do see a world though where search as we know it, is no longer at the center of our experience. Google must recognize this as they have bought their own phone company.

    The desktop isn’t going away. But this type of technology could bring all new players to the fore in a new way …..or it could give old companies a new break (think Bing, Mango & speech)… it could just ramp up Google’s efforts on this front and they keep their lead… I just don’t know who or when.

    Regardless, its a good excuse to go out and buy a new phone. 🙂

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