To Siri, With Love…

I don’t know if “To Sir, With Love,” is one of the most spoofed titles of all time, but I have to admit I remember it mainly because of the Get Smart episode, “To Sire, With Love.”

The new “Hey Siri” feature is iOS8 is something I could easily get used to. It’s remarkably convenient, particularly if I’m not, or should not be, holding my phone.

Now, I realize that it’s easy to criticize Apple: Android has had that feature forever, with its “Ok, Google now,” voice activation. “Ok, Google” doesn’t even require that the phone be plugged in. However, I seem to recall that when Google introduced that feature, even their special low-power chip designed to listen for just that phrase wasn’t quite as low-powered as all that! In the interests of battery life, I can live with the limitations.

More to the point, though, this illustrates something very important about innovation: innovation is not necessarily about coming up with something totally new and different. Sometimes, often in fact, it’s about doing something common a little differently or a little better in some key way.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the MP3 player, but he made it beautiful and convenient. It was easy to get music onto the iPod. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the smart phone either; in fact, when the iPhone first appeared, Blackberries dominated the landscape. But the iPhone wasn’t just a phone: it was also an iPod, a video player, and a gaming device. Who said that business phones couldn’t play music? Research in Motion, and Steve Jobs didn’t listen to them.

In other words, Apple has a habit of letting other people show the way and then figuring out something that’s slightly better or more aesthetically pleasing. By limiting when “Hey Siri” works, Apple does two things: first, they solve the battery life problem: the phone has to be plugged in. Second, by focusing us on the situations where actually picking up the phone may be difficult or inconvenient, they remind us how handy this feature is.

Of course, if it doesn’t work, it’ll also remind us how disappointing it is, but somehow I suspect that’s not going to be the case.

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