June 12, 2012

Apple Shows Off Maps And Siri Ahead Of New iPhone

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com

June is only now upon us, but it´s already a brand new year for Apple. Their product packed Keynote presentation yesterday not only delivered a brand new, iPad-themed machine aimed squarely at professionals, they also peeled the cover back slightly on iOS 6, the mobile operating system which runs on all things “i.”

Though iOS 6 isn´t slated to arrive until the “fall”–likely a few days before we see the new iPhone–Apple has already distanced themselves from their competition in more ways than one. With their new revised Maps app, Apple is finally able to move out from underneath Google´s umbrella, taking on the task of compiling this data on their own, while their Intelligent Assistant Siri finally makes her competition look like technology from an 80´s science fiction novel.

Steve Jobs was beaming with pride to announce their partnership with Google when the first iPhone arrived in 2007. Not only did the Safari browser feature Google searches, they also pushed Google Maps, presenting them with a seat of honor on the then sparsely populated home screen. While Apple had always been in control of how the app was designed, they had always relied on Google Maps data for their back-end server work. Even now, these maps are preinstalled with every iPhone sold. Not so come fall, as Apple finally announced their own mapping service, a project which has been in the works for a couple years. Apple began to acquire mapping services, such as C3, Placebase and Poly 9, not-so-subtly suggesting they were planning to cut ties with Google. Then, during “location-gate” last year, Apple made mention of a new traffic service they had in the works. We only had to wait for today to see in unveiled.

The new version of Maps will have Siri integration, real-time traffic information and turn-by-turn directions. The real demo-worthy aspect of the new app is their 3D “flyover” mode, which allows users to look over their favorite cities as if they are flying over them, looking for points of interest. Although this feature is very slick, it´s not yet seen how useful it will be when it launches, as Apple has only modeled 20 cities to date.

When Siri launched last October with the iPhone 4S, she came with one glaring blemish, best identified on Apple´s own website. A bright orange warning tag sits on the top left corner of Siri´s profile which reads “Beta,” more or less an admission that she may act up once in a while. As such, Siri has oft been ridiculed and downplayed as a niche feature. When she works, she works incredibly well, but when she doesn´t–and she doesn´t more often than she should–she can be a real pain in the neck. Samsung introduced an eerily similar version of Siri when they announced the Galaxy S III, complete with similar microphone icon and functionality. Even the name–“S voice”–smacks of Siri likeness. Samsung´s S-Voice offers users voice command functionality. Meaning, there is a set of specific voice commands that S-Voice listens for in order to start working, turning your voice more into a remote control.

Originally pitched as an “Intelligent Assistant,” Siri is supposed to be as natural and lifelike as talking to a real assistant. Instead of using a select set of voice commands to control her, Siri is able to parse what you ask of her, then turn your phrase into actionable items. In iOS 6, Siri has not only gotten smarter, but assumedly more stable as well. Vice President of iPhone software Scott Forstall began showing off Siri´s new functionality by asking a series of sports questions, then moved on to some movie trivia. If Siri works as well as she did in the demo, she´ll be able to turn many of your questions into real answers rather than simply guiding you to a web search. Siri will also be able to take control of date night, booking restaurant reservations and buying movie tickets, all at your behest. While she may have been a fun game to play at the bar when she first made her way to our world, it seems she has now matured and is ready to reliably show up to work on time. Apple´s WWDC continues on through this week, and iOS 6 will be available sometime “this fall.”