It’s been quite some time since digital assistants hit the scene. Siri popularized the program with her iconic voice and ease of use. Apple revolutionized the concept with voice recognition and location services that allowed Siri to see where you were and remembered what you said. Responses weren’t a lifeless robotic voice, but a human one. You could change her name, her gender, her language all with the touch of a button or by telling her to. Siri kept reminders, suggested locales for eating, shopping, having fun or whatever you are looking for at the time. She could call anyone in your contact list as well as dialling any foreign number.
The beauty of it all was that Siri responded to regular questions. Gone were the days where computer voice recognition had to have a simple format and be enunciated perfectly in order for a command to be executed. Phone companies could learn from Apple for their pioneering into the technology. Soon after Siri’s début, she became an icon for Apple. She was featured on television, magazines, blogs, YouTube videos, and other platforms. She was everywhere and persuaded so many to upgrade to the iPhone 4S, where she was first featured. Times have changed, and Siri isn’t the only digital assistant on the market.
Other smartphone developers have tried their hand at it and now we have three contenders: Google’s Google Now (or “OK Google”) and Microsoft’s Cortana for Android and Windows phones respectively.
Both of these companies cut their piece of the digital secretary pie. The competition began to heat up as Microsoft and Apple butt heads, especially when Microsoft hit Siri in her 64 bit posterior with a rather funny ad, showcasing Cortana’s superior abilities to memorize specific things about you. These included favourite restaurants and news topics.
Google Now mainly showcased its ability to search things hands free. A series of these commercials airing in 2014 and 2015, depicting Google Now’s usability in daily life and popularizing the phrase “Ok Google”. However, after a time, the digital assistant sensation became stale and most people used it from time to time, but probably not as often as the developers intended. Digital assistants were neat, but there were issues.
Location services weren’t always the best, the voice recognition was faulty at times and their functionality only went so far before you had to do the action yourself. Well, the fire is being fanned as new updates of these devices are changing their focus. The goal now, isn’t to just be a personal assistant, but a passive one. To use your phone’s availability to data such as your email, apps, and location services to better serve you.
Google Now had already begun using multiple sources to generate the most useful response to you. Because it is powered by Google’s search engine and nearly everyone and their cat uses it, your past searches enhance the experience. New features are being researched such as using your emails to find the names to unknown numbers that may call you.
Studying your behaviour is swiftly becoming the goal of digital assistants. They watch everything you do, record many of the things you type and even use the sensors your phone is equipped with to better serve you. Now, this may seem slightly alarming only because you won’t know exactly what your phone stores and what it is using, not to mention the obvious security issues that will undoubtedly arise from the increased functionality of these programs. Hopefully, nothing too nefarious will come from these upgrades, and it does mean that now, your phone can become even more essential to your life (if it isn’t already).
Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of a digital assistant. We have our phones with us all the time and it only seems logical that they be upgraded to a form that better suits its consumers. However, one aspect of the assistant I’d like to see improved upon (I hope you’re listening Apple, Google and Microsoft), is the location services. Now, services like Google Maps is already a wondrous tool that I’d probably be lost without (especially in New York City), but there have been many times where it has either guided me to the wrong place or just led me in one large circle.
Apple’s and Microsoft’s Maps are guilty of this as well. In the future, I hope my phone will be able to tell when I am outside, versus when I am indoors as I’m sure some nifty functions can be created to just that. HTC’s M9 already does this as it changes your home screen app depending on your location.