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Last week, when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) unveiled the new iPad, there was a notable omission that I was fully expecting to see included: Siri. As one of the key selling points for the iPhone 4S and leading Apple's push toward voice interaction as a viable input medium, where was Siri?
CultofMac recently laid out the two primary reasons Cupertino's virtual assistant probably didn't make the cut and probably won't any time soon.
Siri phone home
The first one is simply that Siri needs an active network connection to call home to the iMothership to function properly, since the bulk of Siri's software isn't stored locally but rather on Apple's servers. The iPhone 4S always has a data connection like any other smartphone, so this rarely presents a problem.
On the other hand, devices like the iPod Touch and iPad can't always rely on being connected, either on Wi-Fi or the iPad's speedy new 4G LTE connection. Since not all iPad models have LTE and even those that do include contract-free data plans, Siri would work intermittently at best, depending on the availability/subscription of a network connection.
While other functions like browsing and email require a connection, too, that's intuitively obvious to most users. The inclusion of Siri would have inevitably been touted as a key-selling feature that's integrated directly into iOS and, as such, when not always available would send a mixed signal.
On top of that, many users have even noticed that Siri has gotten dumber over the past few months, notably including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who switch-hits and uses both iOS and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android devices. In an interview with The Daily Beast in January, Woz said:
I used to ask Siri, "What are the five biggest lakes in California?" and it would come back with the answer. Now it just misses. It gives me real estate listings. I used to ask, "What are the prime numbers greater than 87?" and it would answer. Now instead of getting prime numbers, I get listings for prime rib, or prime real estate. I have a lower success rate with Siri than I do with the voice built into the Android, and that bothers me.
Source: The Daily Beast.
Woz goes on to express his frustration with unsuccessfully trying to call local restaurants through Siri:
Then I pick up my Android, say the same thing, and it's done. Plus I get navigation. Android is way ahead on that.
Google is probably working on a "Google Assistant" as we speak.
Siri is still in beta, so some bugs are to be expected, as with any beta software. But why would Siri seemingly become less intelligent over time? It could potentially be tied back to the possibility that Siri's usage has taken off in lockstep with iPhone 4S sales, and the plethora of queries could be overwhelming its servers to the extent that Siri can't spend as much time contemplating each response or witty comeback.
This might mean that Apple's already having trouble keeping up with Siri's demand, and including it on the iPad would only make matters worse.
Expansion to the rescue!
Siri is thought to inhabit Apple's relatively new massive data center in North Carolina, along with iCloud. Apple has reportedly been working on expanding the already-ginormous facility, in addition to adding a hefty solar-panel array near it to serve up renewable energy. Local news outlets have reported that Apple has begun construction beside it, while the solar array is to be built across the street.
Adding on to its data-center infrastructure could address some of the server bottlenecks that Siri may be getting swarmed with, and it could set the stage for broader inclusion in other iDevices. Of course, this is all speculation on what Apple's up to in North Carolina, but if the shoe fits ...
The next best thing
What did make the cut was Voice Dictation, which allows hands-free typing and is a subset of Siri's functionality. This could be good news for Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN ) as the provider of Siri's voice-recognition backbone. Siri's dictation abilities also require a network connection (although users can always rely on good old-fashioned typing if unavailable), since Nuance's software is supposedly also located back in Apple's North Carolina data center.
This means that even though Siri didn't make the new iPad, there's a decent chance that Nuance still did in a meaningful way. The company's relationship with Apple is "complex," so we're still left guessing on how much top-line upside it could see. As the clear leader in voice recognition coupled with hardball CEO Paul Ricci, I think Nuance should have some reasonable bargaining posture with Apple, something most of Cupertino's other suppliers lack.
Still selling like hotcakes
Despite the lack of Siri, the new iPad is already off to a strong start, with preorders now sold out and global shipping times slipping to several weeks. Doesn't look like the market minds too much.
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