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Summary:

A recent report on the outsized increase in data usage among iPhone 4S users blamed the bandwidth drain squarely on Siri. But while Siri may be used as the mechanism for more Internet searches and smartphone services, the application itself uses very little data.

siri

Last week, Arieso released a report stating iPhone 4S users were consuming twice the data as their iPhone 4 counterparts. Arieso placed the blame squarely on Siri, the new personal assistant that allows users to initiate searches and basic phone actions through voice command. Siri, however, is just a scapegoat. Siri may be the mechanism for more searches on the iPhone 4S, but the application itself consumes a miniscule amount of data.

I reached out to Vlad Sejnoha, CTO of Nuance Communications, which provides the automated voice recognition technology that powers Siri. Sejnoha said he couldn’t comment on Siri specifically, but generally, network voice recognition platforms send highly compressed audio files from the phone to network-based servers any time a voice command is initiated. Nuance’s own Dragon Go voice-search app usually only sends tens of kilobytes per voice prompt, and the amount of data sent back to the device is even tinier, since Dragon Go doesn’t have to futz around with an audio recording on the return path, Sejnoha said.

However, that doesn’t mean Siri isn’t driving more data usage even if it isn’t draining bandwidth itself. Sejnoha said voice-driven user interfaces and natural speech recognition are encouraging more and deeper searches for mobile web content simply because the technology is easier to use on the go than the usual finger-tap methods. If customers are using Siri to get to video sharing and streaming sites or using it to find applications to download more often and more easily, then you would expect a big increase in data usage.

“Invoking searches or media consumption may require greater bandwidth, but no more than if these actions were initiated in conventional ways, and the size of the data ‘payload’ can vary immensely depending on what the user is doing,” Sejnoha said in an email.

Still, it’s hard to imagine those Siri-driven searches are producing a doubling of data traffic to the 4S versus the iPhone 4. You can use Siri to easily get to YouTube or Pandora websites, but Siri can’t open the YouTube or Pandora iOS apps, which are infinitely more useful for actually streaming video and music. Many of Siri’s most tantalizing features – setting reminders, dictating text messages, initiating calls, getting weather and schedule updates – would consume only the most miniscule amount of network data. The bevy of new features in the iPhone 4S, from iCloud over-the-air music and data synchronization to its more powerful processor, all could be contributing to an explosion in data usage much more than Siri.

It’s more accurate to look at Siri as another of Apple’s long line of user interface innovations — the original iPhone touchscreen, the first Safari microbrowser and the concept of the mobile app – that have made it subsequently easier for smartphone users to interact with Internet services on a tiny device.

  1. Maybe, just maybe, can it be due to all the mistakes that Siri does? Maybe it just heard me wrong and searches for the wrong thing and has to go back and search again?

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  2. Stephen Wilson Monday, January 9, 2012

    And it’s even MORE important to recognise Siri as a brand new way for Apple to uncover and mine vast troves of personal Information. Apple’s privacy policy is to retain all data gathered via Siri for secondary purposes that are not self-limited nor even well articulated. Siri provides Apple with the content of dictated text messages and e-mails, knowledge that telecommunications laws prevents carriers from having. More broadly, Siri provides intimate insights into the way Apple users lead their lives. It’s the latest example of the unfair bargain at the heart of most social media: a very cool free service to be sure, but users unwittingly pay an extraordinary price in the form of solid gold Personal Information.

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    1. kevinfitchard Monday, January 9, 2012

      Hi Stephen, Scary thought, huh? What’s even more frightening is that Apple doesn’t just know who you are and what you’re doing. It knows what you sound like. Way out there, but I’m just sayin…

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    2. Stephen….You are right….Lets also not leave out FB, Twitter and others that crafted to capture community content/data that is then leveraged to generate billions in profit for themselves…..

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  3. Yeah! … and battery technology is just fine too! Just keep your phone off and your battery will last forever!

    This is seriously the most absurd tech article I’ve read in a long while. OF COURSE SIRI IS AN ENABLER!!!

    The whole issue with Siri is that Apple implemented a feature that encouraged higher data usage while carriers were cutting people’s usage back often with financial penalties.

    People need to be wary of Siri and features like it. They didn’t fight to keep unlimited data in almost all of the US’s nationwide wireless carriers. This is the price they will pay… risking a heart attack every time they look at their wireless bills.

    Enjoy.

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