Thursday, October 20, 2011

The last disruption of Steve Jobs

Notes to Steve Jobs at Boston Apple Store

Even though I never met him, Steve Jobs had a profound impact on my professional life. Both directly, through his personality and vision, and indirectly through the Mac and iPhone. The graphics/arts/video capabilities of the Mac have made it possible for me to do things that seemed unimaginable when I first typed a FORTRAN program onto punch cards.

But I'm not going to bore you with all that.

I did, however want to note one thing that struck me just a day or two after he died: Siri may well be the last major disruption of the computer industry that Steve Jobs will be associated with.

Steve may not have actually invented these things, but his fingers are all over WYSIWYG, menus and mice, the death of the floppy, USB, the digital music player, and on and on.

It was therefore interesting to see this segment of an interview with Walter Mossberg at the D10 Conference, where Mossberg asked Jobs about Google's Android competing with Apple, and then asked about Siri (a company Apple had acquired.)
Walter Mossberg: Last year at our conference we had a small search company called Siri.
Steve Jobs: Yeah, well I don't know if I would describe Siri as a search company.
Walter Mossberg: Okay, but it's a search related company...
Steve Jobs: No, they're not in the search area, they are in the AI area.
Walter Mossberg: So you're not planning to go into the search business through them?
Steve Jobs: No, we have no plans to go into the search business. It's not something we know about, it's not something we care deeply about. Other people do it well.
And then I watched the ad for Siri on Apple's site, and I noticed two things:
One: They are using Wolfram to provide their search results, so they aren't going into search
Two: Siri could still have a dramatic impact on Google and the traditional search industry.
Why? Notice that many of the questions i.e. "Find a restaurant" and "How many ounces in a cup?" are things that, today, I go to Google to find out. Siri may not replace Google completely, but I could see it easily cutting in half the amount of time I spend on Google.

That should be a concern to Google.

I was even more convinced of this after trying out Siri at the Apple store this past weekend. Even though the store was fairly loud and noisy, I was impressed by how well Siri did in recognizing my voice, and how useful it was to ask questions and get answers. Here was Hal from 2001, in a much smaller device.

As luck would have it, I also happened to spend a bit of time using FaceTime on my iPhone this weekend. This was actually only the second time I've used it in the entire time I've had the iPhone 4 (which I bought on the day of release.)

Clearly, the product hasn't been a huge hit with me, and at the time I predicted that FaceTime's success would be dependent upon the number of devices that support it and the number of people that I know that I can reach with it. Mac and iPads now support it, which is a help, but I still don't think that video chats replace phone calls in most cases; yes it's great to see the kids while you're away, or to show someone something in real time, but for many situations it's irrelevant.

Still, I wouldn't right it off, even though it hasn't had a dramatic impact on everyday life.

Which brings me back to Siri. With Siri, I think we'll know a lot sooner if it's going to be a long term success, or a short term curiosity.

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