UPDATED Apple 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.