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Why Apple Would Buy Siri

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UPDATED Apple (s AAPL) has apparently bought Siri, as documented in an FTC file that’s been flagged by Robert Scoble. Siri makes a really cool, almost magical tool that could easily be core to the iPhone experience.

Siri is a free virtual personal assistant application for the iPhone that pulls together all sorts of web services and accounts. It uses voice recognition, location information and knowledge of a user’s relationships and history. This is not a lightweight startup, but a byproduct of SRI’S $150 million CALO Project on artificial intelligence that’s raised $24 million in funding from Morgenthaler Ventures, Menlo Ventures and Horizons Ventures. But it ties together the technology and services other companies have already created, for instance StubHub for ticket buying, OpenTable for restaurant reservations and Nuance for speech recognition. Think of it as the ultimate on-the-fly date planner: after Siri helps you get to a concert, it can find you a suitable place to eat nearby.

I personally haven’t been able to use Siri much because I have an older iPhone. (Sounds just like something Apple would do, right? Give you a reason to upgrade!) But the real charm of the service will be when it’s incredibly fast — something Apple can most certainly help it be. Today the app is a series of shortcuts. It caches what it can through data dumps, but makes real-time web service calls when it needs more information. The idea is to provide convenience in a mobile environment. Siri isn’t faster than web search, and it won’t connect to every long-tail service out there, but it beats the arduous sequences of queries, typed-in URLs and logins on our phone browsers that many of us have come to dread.

And while Apple isn’t in the habit of buying out its own app developers, binding that kind of integrated experience as a built-in application on the iPhone could only make it better. The only question would be how Apple chooses the partner services to include on the app; those who get the call will get incredible exposure to iPhone users.

Update: Siri has confirmed the acquisition. We’ll update with comments from the company later this afternoon.

15 Responses to “Why Apple Would Buy Siri”

  1. MyLocator (tm)

    Is this the first deathblow to forsquare, gowalla and loopt that we have been waiting for? iSiri-ously doubt they will keep the Siri brand. This aquisition has capacity to take over rapidly with appl innovation, user base and Re-branding behind it… exciting, very exciting. The envelope just got shoved.

  2. I’m not so sure. I’ve written on my site that Siri isn’t much – and I don’t know anyone who’s actually used it more than 3 times. iAd is where the money is.

    I think the Siri purchase is just Jobs’ way of spending Apple pocket change to rattle Schmidt and Google.

    • Ooh, I love conspiracy theories! Well, Google did buy reMail, the useful iPhone mail search app.

      But still, I can totally see Jobs demoing Siri 2.0 at a keynote someday soon. As the tech gets better and faster the idea of voice control gets really useful.

      • mary r.

        @liz – Apple are fixated on touch now and for the foreseeable future (maybe evolving to gesture recognition). If they wanted voice recognition/control, that isn’t what SIRI do (they use other people’s tech for that). They have reasonably good NLP, but, it’s very limited to a small # of Apps (not broad Search).

        I see it as more of an acquisition of some smart people, including a recent Google Mobile fellow. Or, they may make the NLP tech available to App developers and keep that kind of thing away from Android…I’m trying to think of how you build gimmicky NLP apps that work with an accelerometer? (noting, other start up companies have equally good NLP and are Android compatible, so, SIRI isn’t unique enough on that front).

        I’d say the acquisition is just a continuation of the strange days of APPLE charting its own course and building higher and higher walls. We don’t really know what’s going on in the Kingdom.

  3. I’m sure Apple knows what it’s doing, and I know Siri has many many genius plans, but after having used (or tried to use I should say) the current version of Siri, I was unable to get it to provide help with anything more complex then a simple keyword inquiry. So whatever Apple and Siri have planned it’s got to be much much better then anything that exists right now.