Siri has been around for ages. Apple keep plugging Siri as this really useful personal assistant, but in all the time Siri has been living in my iPhone, I have found exactly 1 use for her/it. In the morning, when my alarm goes off, if I shout Hey Siri! across the room, she will silence my alarm without me having to get out of bed. That is it. That is the one use that Siri has for me.
I think Siri could be great. Siri could be the best assistant out there. But the fact of the matter is that Siri isn’t the best assistant out there, not by a long shot. The reason that Siri is so useless is because of Apple. It’s not that they haven’t developed Siri enough, it’s that they do that thing that Apple are famous for; walling her off in her own secret garden and never let her out to play . . . (that sounded creepy).
To be perfectly honest, now that I think about it, they’re all like that. I’ve tried Google Now, and that isn’t very useful either, although that is partially because of Apple’s sandboxing among other things. I’ve also tried Evi, which doesn’t have an iPad version and doesn’t do landscape mode, not to mention it still suffers from the walled garden effect. And Assistant.ai, which is quite frankly, grating; I thought we were passed the days of those clearly synthesised voices – I know I can buy a nicer voice, but I shouldn’t have to – also, there’s a difference between using a personal pronoun to refer to a virtual assistant, and going full dolphin with the anthropomorphism. Assistant.ai does use Api.ai, though, which is a plus, I have wanted to put Api.ai into one of my own projects for a while now, but we’ll see.
There is this new one, Hound, but it’s not available in the UK, so . . . that’s that then.
Of course, all of them are stunted by Apple. Only Siri may be the default assistant, so it would be unfair to judge the competitors on their inability to be accessed without unlocking the device and loading the app manually. Damn you Apple!
But the crux of the problem is this. All of the assistants are useless because they don’t let me make them better. By that, what I mean is, they don’t do what Workflow does.
Workflow is an excellent iOS app that I use every single day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
If you’ve ever used Automater on the Mac, Workflow is basically that, but on your phone and iPad and Apple Watch.
Let’s look at an example Workflow:
This might look a little complicated, but it is actually one of my more basic workflows. By using the following URL scheme I can activate the Workflow.
It will then present the user with a list of commonly needed items, the list right at the top; Bread, Milk, etc,. The list items that are selected are appended to an Evernote shopping list that is then synced with everyone’s iPhones and computers, so we all always know what things we need to buy.
The makers of Workflow don’t presume to know what I want. They make a tool and then allow me to customise that tool to fit my needs.
Why can’t I do that with Siri, or any of the other assistants for that matter?
Whichever company comes up with Workflow for Siri first is, in my opinion, going to make a mint! They’ll make a mint because all of a sudden, Siri is actually useful. People will want to use Siri to get work done, rather than as a joke. And if people actually start wanting to use Siri, Apple will take note.
Here’s an idea.
While we wait indefinitely for Apple to sort themselves out, the guys over at Workflow.is should incorporate Api.ai into their app. Then I could say Hey Siri, open Workflow. Workflow would open and its default behaviour could be to listen for commands and I could say Add milk to shopping list. Prior to doing this I would have used Workflow to create a listening workflow that would listen for keywords and launch the correct workflows using URL schemes. This is amazing, why does this not exist?!
The iPhone and the iPod touch, iPad and Apple Watch would not be where they are today without the App Store. Apple would not be where they are today without the App Store. So give Siri something akin to the App Store and soon Siri will be the most powerful assistant in the world!
Of course, there are ways to make Siri useful right now. Jailbreaking is one way, but jailbreaking is such a faff (also, I’m on 9.2.1 and there is no jailbreak for that). BetterThanSiri is another, but as far as I can tell it just full-stop does not work right now. I don’t know whether it’s just a temporary thing, or whether it only works in the US or whether it’s been offline for ages, but as at this article, it just doesn’t work. And that’s a shame, because I really wanted to use it this morning. I wanted to be able to say Hey Siri, GoogolPlex add olive bread to the shopping list. (Well, I didn’t really want to say GoogolPlex but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, right?)
P.S. I haven’t even mentioned how much I hate that Hey Siri only works with one voice these days. I really hate that. I can see how that would be useful in an office situation or something, but in my deployment, I really, really need to be able to turn that off.