Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) packed a plethora of new updates into its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) earlier this week, and iOS 9 topped some of the biggest changes. With nearly every recent iOS update, Apple focuses a bit of its attention on the company's digital personal assistant, Siri, and this year was no exception.
Digital personal assistants have gotten increasingly smarter and more capable over the years. While Siri was in a class all of its own when it first debuted, lately it's come up a bit short compared to Google's offering, Google Now, and Microsoft's Cortana.
But with iOS 9, Siri becomes much more useful; so let's a take a look at what's new.
One of the most important new features of Siri is its ability to suggest things for you without even having to ask. Apple is trying to make Siri more proactive, and the result is a much more capable Siri.
For example, Apple says that if you go running in the morning, Siri will learn that preference and start bringing up your favorite music playlist when you plug your headphones into your iPhone in the morning. Similarly, Siri will offer up a Bluetooth connection when you get into your car if you typically sync the two together.
One of the best applications of this, though, will likely be with contextual reminders. In iOS 9, Siri will be able to automatically pull information out of your emails, like a dinner reservation, and ask if you want to set a reminder for it. Once you do, Siri will automatically remind you when to leave for said reservation, based on your location and how much traffic is on the road.
Users can also ask Siri to remind them of a specific thing they're looking at -- like a text, email, or picture -- and Siri will recall what it was when the reminder pops up later.
A smarter search
In the past, Siri has been, at best, a somewhat-capable way of searching for information. You could ask to look up information on the web or find contacts on your phone; but in iOS 9, Siri essentially takes the place of Spotlight and can now do much deeper searches into your phone's apps and content.
Say, for instance, you want to find photos or videos from a specific month, you can tell Siri, "Show me pictures from June," and it will bring up pictures you took in that month. You can also search by where you took the pictures or the name of specific albums.
Even more impressive is that Siri will now search through your iPhone's or iPad's apps to find information you were previously looking at. Apple says that if you searched for an apple pie recipe in an app -- but can't remember which app you were looking at the recipe in -- you could just search for "apple pie" in Siri's search bar and it'll know what you were looking for and bring up the recipe app for you.
In addition to the improvements above, Siri will also get a handful of smaller upgrades layered onto its current capabilities.
The most notable is probably Siri's integration with the company's new Apple Music service. Users will be able to ask Siri to play the best songs from a specific year, a band's greatest hits, or an artist's top song.
In addition to Siri's new music knowledge, the virtual assistant can also provide more sports information with just a simple search of a sports team name. So if you use Siri to search for "Philadelphia Phillies," it will automatically bring the score from the last game (they probably lost), their upcoming schedule, and some relevant websites.
Siri also knows more about the weather, too, displaying hour-by-hour conditions, and can now do unit conversions all by itself.
Why Siri still matters
While digital personal assistants are far from perfect, Apple knows that creating an intelligent system that can help remove tedious tasks is an important tool for mobile users. During the past couple of years, Google Now and Cortana have added more proactive and location-aware features that have left Siri a bit behind.
While the new upgrades likely won't be the deciding factor on whether or not users choose an iPhone over an Android or Windows device, it's important for Apple to show that it's still a leader in the digital assistant space. In the near future, Siri will take a more central roll in controlling connected home systems that run on Apple's HomeKit, and the latest upgrades are putting Siri on the right path to making that happen.