No, it didn’t include jetpacks, or not ones you’d find in Wal-Mart for $200. And yes, cars are still driven by people. But some of our technological dreams have been manifested, and they’re ridiculous. Take the phone in your pocket. It blows away even the optimistic hope of mobile devices 10 years ago. The pervasive nature of the internet means just about any information can be called up anywhere, period. YouTube is less than 5 years old, and it’s already grown from a bumbling infant to an HD extravaganza. Geolocation, augmented reality, 3D cameras,e-paper and OLED are just a few of the commonly used technologies of the day. If you thought designers and engineers were stopping there, you’d be wrong.
Apple’s soon-to-be-released iPhone 5 will surely up the ante even further, and fellow geeks like me have been looking for a scoop on what these changes hold in store. One of them is the integration of Nuance’s voice technology, and the way it will truly change the way we interact with our lives.
Called Assistant, this iPhone feature begins to look very alive indeed.
One can say “make appointment with Mark Gurman for 7:30 PM” and Assistant will create the appointment in the user’s calendar. On noting events, Assistant also allows users to set reminders for the iOS 5 Reminders application. For example, a user could say “remind me to buy milk when I arrive at the market.” Another example would be integration with the iOS Maps application. A user could ask: “how do I get to Staples Center?” and Assistant will use the user’s current location via GPS and provide directions.
Another interesting Assistant feature is the ability to create and send an SMS or iMessage with just your voice. For example, you can say “send a text to Mark saying I’ll be running late to lunch!” – and it will send.
Super geeks will be quick to point out that Apple didn’t invent all of this voice technology. But we all know they do an amazing job integrating new technology into everyday life.
And that’s just part of it. Once Assistant is triggered by holding down the Home Button for a couple of seconds, you’ll be able to engage in a HAL 9000-style conversation with the phone itself. Ask it to send an email to your friend Adrian—it’ll ask you which email address you want to use. Whenever you give it an order, Assistant will check with you to make sure it’s doing the best job possible, like a little handheld secretary.
But it’s not only about you and your iPhone chatting it up: 9to5Mac says Assistant will usher in a giant social feature with “Find My Friends,” all executed with your voice. It’s dead simple. “Where’s Adrian?” Your phone will show you Adrian on the map, assuming Adrian’s privacy settings allow it.
Finally, there’s Wolfram Alpha baked into Assistant. Wolfram Alpha is the equivalent of an extremely nerdy, always-right friend who knows everything. And now Assistant is that genius friend. Ask your iPhone for the GDP of Libya: it’ll tell you. Ask your iPhone how many feet from the Earth Jupiter is. It’ll tell you. Wolfram Alpha support gives you an enormous trove of instant knowledge, invaluable for work, school, or just winning an argument with your friend.
Give this type of interaction a few years to mature, and we’re seriously talking about two-way conversations with our technology. That’s either a really comforting or really scary thought. Probably both. The future indeed.