How Siri Was Almost An Android
January 25, 2013

Before Apple, Siri Was Almost An Android

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

On October 14, 2011, millions of people eagerly waited for their delivery driver to drop off a very special package. For these early-adopting iPhone 4S fans, there were two features to try out immediately: The new 8-megapixel camera and that brand new intelligent voice assistant, Siri. Within hours, people were posting screenshots of Siri´s responses to their questions, both common and nonsensical alike.

According to a story in the Huffington Post that ran earlier this week, iPhone users almost never had the opportunity to ask their phones about the meaning of life, the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, or where to find the closest taco stand.

As you may remember, Siri first debuted as a third-party app for iOS, one that other companies had their eyes on.

It didn´t last very long in the App Store before Apple snapped it up, and brought the team in house, eventually shutting down the app in the weeks leading up the 4S launch.

Verizon had originally shown interest in the Siri team before Apple — at the time still led by Steve Jobs — had a chance to make an offer. According to the Huffington Post piece, Big Red approached the start up in 2009 with plans to make Siri a default application on their line of Android phones, or “Droid” phones as they´re known on VZW. The carrier had plans to launch the new service at the beginning of 2010.

In fact, Verizon was apparently so close to sealing the deal that they already had commercials created to advertise their new smart feature. As we all now know, Apple swooped in, insisted the app only be available on their devices (typical Apple) and brought it in-house for nearly a year before releasing her to the world.

"It was a storybook ending — or beginning, you can call it," explains Doug Kittlaus, Siri´s co-founder in the Huffington Post story.

According to Kittlaus, Steve Jobs approached the startup only 3 weeks after the app made its debut on the App Store in February 2010. Jobs reportedly loved the conversational way which Siri and its users interacted with one another, saying that this was the future of computing.

“The way that Steve described it, speech recognition — and how to use it to create a speech interface for something like the iPhone — was an area of interest to him and Scott Forstall [then head of Apple's mobile software] for some time,” explains Kittlaus.

“The story that I´m told is that he thought we´d cracked that paradigm with our simple, conversational interface.”

The original Siri app for iPhone boasted many more features than the first iteration on iPhone 4S, connecting to more than 40 online services such as OpenTable and Yelp. Siri could perform calculations, find movie times and events, book a table at a local restaurant and even hail a cab, all via voice commands. When Apple re-released it that fall, however, many original Siri fans were understandably upset with how much Apple had handicapped the service, making it available only to one iPhone model and reducing what Siri could answer.

One of these critics was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The never shy and always honest Wozniak called Siri “Poo Poo” during an interview last summer, saying he was a fan of the service when it first released in early 2010.

“I would say, ℠Siri, what are the five largest lakes in California?´ and it would come up, one, two, three, four, five. And I would ask ℠What are the prime numbers greater than 87?´ and they would come up all in a row. That was pretty incredible,” Wozniak said.