Analyst Predicts Apple's "Next Big Thing"

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New blog posting by Bill Meisel highlights the need that Apple will address.

Bill Meisel, technology industry analyst and author of the recently published book The Software Society, expects, according to a blog posting at http://www.thesoftwaresociety.com, that Apple's next big thing won't be the usual single-device announcement, but an integration across devices that simplifies user's digital lives.

Meisel notes Apple has excelled at identifying an unmet need and serving it--the iPhone and iPad being obvious examples. A current need is simplifying user experience with the many digital devices a user deals with daily, and with the exploding number of features and services on each device. Individuals also are dealing with too many messages and too much information. Meisel says that Apple is the company best-positioned to reduce this "digital overload."

So how could Apple address this need? It can largely be addressed with improvements in Siri. Apple's Siri showed the potential of being able to ask for something the way an individual might ask an assistant. The "Personal Assistant Model," a concept Meisel discussed at length in the recent book The Software Society, can drive another cycle of technology growth. Dr. Meisel has deep experience in language technologies and its application, and claims that natural language interaction has reached the point where it can support this model at an acceptable level, and will continue to get better.

Apple must make some changes in Siri to achieve the full potential of the Personal Assistant Model of user interface. First, the core technology supporting Siri must continue to improve: the speech recognition, the understanding of a request, and an expanding range of tasks Siri can deal with. Improvements in the core technology are driven by analysis of data, and Siri has been collecting data on what we say to it in huge quantities. And Apple can engage outside developers through its App Store for specialized features. Optional third-party specialized personal assistants could register with Siri so Siri can engage those assistants when asked.

Second, Siri should allow text input as well as speech—one would type what one would otherwise say, as people do today to some "virtual assistants" on the Web that operate as chat boxes. That makes the personal assistant usable when speech isn't a good option.

Third, Siri should work across all an individual's devices. This is the key feature, making a unified interface that is the same no matter what digital system one is using. Siri can be ubiquitous, remembering what a user did on one device when the user is on another. The Software Society and Meisel's past blog entries (Ubiquitous Personal Assistants and The Ubiquitous Personal Assistant: The battle has begun) discuss the importance and characteristics of the single, always-available personal assistant.

The ubiquitous personal assistant could support Apple's approach to TV. Meisel notes that one can avoid the technical challenge of talking to the TV across a noisy room simply by bringing an iPhone near one's mouth and stating a request to find TV content. Controlling the TV becomes simply another app on the iPhone if Apple provides a compatible TV or accessory device.

What about wearable computing? Whatever Apple comes up with (if anything in this category) is likely to use Bluetooth connectivity to an iPhone to preserve power. Siri then provides a wide range of services despite the small size of the wearable device.

In the automobile, some solutions already connect with Siri on an iPhone in a voice-only mode. The increased number of tasks Siri can handle will make this a powerful option.

Meisel notes that Apple has the advantage of having its own version of most of these digital devices, as well as iCloud to provide cross-device consistency. Apple supplies many of the core applications on those devices, e.g., a calendar app on the iPhone, so that Siri can engage device-specific apps.

In summary, the "next big thing" won't be a single device or incremental features. It will be unification and expansion of Siri into a major feature on all future Apple devices and services. Apple will address the core problem of too many devices and too many features.

Meisel notes that other companies are trying to address aspects of this problem. Google tries to be a device-agnostic option and has recently expanded search (including natural-language voice search). Microsoft has the core technology capabilities to move in this direction, already offering some voice search options in Bing. Nuance Communications' CEO Paul Ricci recently expressed his strong belief in the ubiquitous personal assistant at a conference, providing an option for device manufacturers that don't want to depend on Google.

Apple is in the strongest position to address this problem. But, if they don't, Meisel noted, "We can all hope that others will."

About Bill Meisel

William ("Bill") Meisel recently published The Software Society: Cultural and Economic Impact. He is president of TMA Associates, which provides an industry newsletter, Speech Strategy News, and consulting services.

With a B.S. degree in Engineering from Caltech and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, Dr. Meisel began his career as a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at USC. He has published technical papers and books, including a pioneering technical book, Computer-Oriented Approaches to Pattern Recognition.

After working in university research, Dr. Meisel launched and managed the Computer Science Division of a defense company for ten years. He then founded a venture-capital-backed speech recognition company and ran it for ten years. Currently, as an industry analyst, he publishes a paid-subscription, no-ads monthly industry newsletter, Speech Strategy News, on commercial developments in speech technology and natural language interpretation. As Executive Director of the Applied Voice Input Output Society (AVIOS), a non-profit industry organization, he creates the program for AVIOS's annual Mobile Voice Conference. He also makes The Software Society a "living book" with a blog at http://www.thesoftwaresociety.com.

Further info: http://www.thesoftwaresociety.com
Contact:
William Meisel, Author, The Software Society: Cultural and Economic Impact
info(at)tmaa(dot)com

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