My love affair with Siri: is the honeymoon over?

Ever since I purchased my iPhone 4S a few weeks ago, I have been evaluating my use of Siri: in doing so I have come to a few realisations about how I use technology in general. The one theme that prevails is that nothing is infallible. No technology is perfect and, as an end user, I find that I am forever making adjustments and adaptations, and that isn't such a bad thing.

There is no way that I should expect that any piece of technology - whether it be hardware or software - can be built to serve a multitude of users, be reasonably priced and yet at the same time be absolutely perfect to meet my individual needs. And so I tweak, find workarounds, find ways to use the technology in a way that works for me. I also have to find ways to ensure that the many different technologies I use work as harmoniously as possible together, even if they were not necessarily designed to do so. This again requires adaptations, workarounds and so on. But in all of this pondering, what I realised was that I did all of this long before I became "disabled".

Any technology that is built for more than one person will invariably require some adjustments on the end user's part. In fact, most technology vendors now recognise this and offer Preferences for users to tweak at will. As I see it, the more preferences the merrier - I would rather have technology that meets as many people's needs as possible as best it can than technology that meets a small group of people's needs perfectly but in doing so has priced itself right out of the market. In my little Siri experimentation, I have also realised something about technology that is not really news to anyone who knows anything about technology, but there is always an overlap between technologies that are designed to be assistive or adaptive and mainstream technologies. And this brings me onto Siri.

Siri is not something that was designed for people with disabilities and yet I am using it as a piece of assistive technology. It is helping me to complete tasks that I was otherwise unable to complete before Siri and I met. Siri is far from perfect, and as I asserted in my initial post, it is certainly early days. Siri is not ready to be used as a standalone piece of assistive technology. For this to happen, it would need to be fully integrated with VoiceOver, so that there is a seamless relationship between inputs and outputs, and I think this is a long time coming.

However, there are certain discrete tasks that I am now completing using Siri alone as a matter of course. As my eyesight degenerated to the point where I was unable to text without wanting to hurl my phone as far as I could quite a while ago, I had pretty much stopped texting altogether. But now, with Siri, I am suddenly text-tastic. I am texting people willy-nilly and loving it. Siri has reopened a door. It has given me an additional communication tool that I thought was closed to me forever and I'm very grateful for it.

I'm also using Siri to assist with other aspects of communication and this is where it starts to fall short. It's great for doing what its underlying technology was made for and that is dictation. I use it to dictate notes and small amounts of information, in the same way that I should use Dragon Dictate, but don't. Siri has the essential added bonus, in that it is integrated into the iPhone's native applications and is available in the keyboard, and this makes all the difference. In fact, I am yearning for Siri to find its way into my iPad. However, as I am a writer of long documents and articles, Siri is not suited to this sort of work. Although I am indeed using it in the Pages app right now to write this blog, I will not persevere as I did last time and painstakingly edit it with my cackhanded fingers. Once I have blurted the bulk of it out, I will wait a few nanoseconds until my iPad has synced and then retrieve my document from the cloud and get on with the editing. Nice.

I am also using Siri for writing short emails, for taking quick notes when I have an idea that my poor ADHD brain would otherwise forget and using the voice activation to call people, set up appointments and check my calendar, but this is where its limitations are most evident, as it just isn't accurate enough to be wholly relied upon.

Don't get me wrong, I love Siri and long may our marriage last, but it does come with its frustrations and I am looking forward to its evolution.

But Siri is just one example where mainstream tech can make a disabled person's life easier. In fact, as it happens, I had a few incredibly inspiring meetings with Rob Sinclair, Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer, when he was in London a couple of weeks ago. We talked a lot about disability and assistive versus mainstream technology. We explored the idea of not categorising people as being either disabled or non-disabled and developing technology that considers all of the senses and is designed for use on different devices and in different environments. What if these tools were all bunged together, called Preferences and then just let people loose to mix and match? Heads up Apple.

Apple Siri Logo
Apple Siri Logo

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