One thing that is loud and clear, Siri is the new voice of Apple

by Phil Hornshaw

The voice-activated Siri personal data assistant was a breakout hit with the release of the iPhone 4S last year. Judging from the Apple’s keynote address at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference, it appears that the original Siri service was just an appetizer.

Much of the presentation that touched on Apple’s new iOS 6 mobile platform for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch was dedicated to improvements to Siri. The talking data assistant is getting an overhaul. App developers will begin playing around with the new technology today and consumers will get their hands on iOS 6 come this fall. The new Siri features are designed to appeal to casual users and techies alike. Apple has added functionality that gives Siri the ability to answer questions about sports, for instance. You can ask Siri about the scores of recent games, for example, and Siri will now be able to get that information in real-time. Apple has also added integration with OpenTable so that Siri can get you reservations at restaurants. Siri will support a ton of new languages when it comes out with iOS 6, and for the first time will be available to iPad owners as well.

Siri, your second-in-command

In a lot of ways, Siri is going to be the central control mechanism for much of the functionality on your iPhone and iPad going forward. You can launch apps with Siri now – the example provided during the keynote was giving Siri the command, “Play Temple Run,” which launched the app immediately – and it’s integrated into other apps to work better with them. The new Maps app allows you to ask Siri questions about how far you are from your destination, or where the nearest gas station is.

Apple has even more partnerships developed specifically for Siri. The announcement of Siri’s “eyes free” features focused specifically on using your iOS devices with cars from a number of automakers, including General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes and Honda.  Ford was noticeably absent from that announcement. All that functionality is Siri-specific, and opens up a whole bunch of new capabilities for the voice-activated app. Apple has effectively inserted itself into a big portion of the automotive industry, using technology it already had. And if you’re considering buying an iPhone, knowing that you not only get Siri, but that you can use it with your car, has got to be a pretty nice selling point.

Apple’s new friend in Facebook

Nearly as signficiant as Siri is a brand new feature baked into iOS 6: Facebook integration. We had previously speculated that Apple would be working in Facebook functionality with iOS 6, and that did happen. With iOS 6, you can use  Siri to update Facebook, which isn’t that surprising since you can do the same with Twitter.

But the Facebook app on iOS is already incredibly popular, and more people use their mobile devices to access Facebook than any other means. It wasn’t played up much during the keynote, but I would expect Siri to get a whole lot of use as a Facebook interaction tool if it continues to work as reliably as most people find it. It’s another big way in which Siri is going to be part of your core iOS experience going forward.

I’d expect Apple to do nothing but put more and more emphasis on Siri going forward. The launch of the iPhone 4S proved Apple had a winner in the voice-activated assistant. The company will surely only put more effort, investment and marketing in that direction to keep riding the wave.

While today’s announcements may not have the sizzle of debuting a new iPhone, iPad or even an Apple TV, the deeper relationship between Siri and Apple’s iDevices will have a longer-term impact than a shiney new phone or tablet.

Stay tuned.