The challenges of bringing Siri to the iPad

Siri on the iPad would need to address connectivity, user interface scaling, and some long missing apps

I would love to have Siri, Apple's voice-controlled virtual assistant, on the iPad 3. I wrote in my iPad 3 event preview preview that I anticipate it, and not a day goes by that I don't instinctively reach for the Dictation button on the iPad 2 keyboard and then grumble when I realize for the umpteenth time that it's just not there.

But as much as I love the idea of Siri on the iPad, there are some challenges Apple would need to overcome.

Preface: Apple a) knows if they're bringing Siri to the iPad 3 or not, and b) if they are, will have no doubt worked all of this out already. So this is entirely a mental exercise on my part. If the iPad 3 is announced with Siri, however, these might be at least some of the reasons why.


iPhone 4S has a 3G data radio, so it remains online pretty much everywhere. iPads have Wi-Fi-only models, so they could be offline for extended periods. Is that an experience Apple would be happy with?

There was no iPod touch update in 2011, so Apple didn't have to deal with that use-case yet. However, there is considerable precedent for how Apple handles other internet-dependant applications when they're offline -- they pop up a network error. Siri already does this as well on an iPhone 4S in Airplane mode. "Siri not available. Connect to the internet."

Siri already tells you when it's not connected to the internet

They could throw in a few funny variations, make a HAL or Skynet joke or two, and almost any user would quickly be conditioned to connect first, ask Siri questions later.

Server load

Another connectivity issue exists on Apple's end. Siri on iPhone 4S, while much better now, had a lot of growing pains on the server side. Apple will want to make sure they have the capacity to handle tens of millions of additional Siri users, and all their queries, before they increase Siri's deployment.

For a while after the iPhone 4S launch, Siri had server load issues. Would adding iPad 3 queries further strain resources?

User interface scale

The full screen Siri interface currently used on the iPhone 4S wouldn't look good if scaled up to fit the bigger iPad screen. That's a problem Apple has faced and overcome several times before with the iPad UI. Mail's composition sheet, for example, doesn't fill the whole screen on the iPad the way it does on the iPhone. Likewise, while Notification Center is full screen on the iPhone and iPod touch, on the iPad it's decidedly not.

Simply scaling the existing full screen Siri interface up to fit 9.7-inches obviously isn't an option

The same approach could theoretically work for Siri on the iPad, but not without some reconceptualization. Mechanically, Notification Center pulls down on both the iPhone and iPad. The iPad version just isn't as wide and doesn't pull down as far. Siri on the iPhone starts off more like the fast app switcher, revealed when screen pulls up. The fast app switcher works fine at full width on the iPad, and in full width regardless of whether the iPad is in portrait or landscape orientation.

That's something to consider as well -- Siri is portrait only on the iPhone, and that works fine because the iPhone's Home screen system is portrait only. The iPad's Home screen system is deliberately designed to work in both portrait and landscape modes. Siri's UI on the iPad would likewise have to work in both portrait and landscape mode.

Having the Siri microphone revealed at the bottom isn't an issue -- it would work and look fine. But having the whole screen pull up to display the results would look odd. It would look as odd as a full screen Notification Center. Which is why Apple didn't do Notification Center full screen on the iPad, it's why they didn't do Mail composition sheets full screen on the iPad, it's even -- according to legend -- why there aren't clock or weather or stocks apps on the iPad. It's something Apple seems incredible conscientious of, and not without good reason.

The Siri microphone might look okay as is on the iPad, but the widgets would look far too small, especially in landscape mode.

The Notification Center solution

Going back to Notification Center, which works fine in both portrait and landscape mode on the iPad, it might be worthwhile sacrificing the iPhone mechanic for the pull down's flexibility. Would Apple really be happy with something that works differently on the iPad than it does on the iPhone? Would users find it disconcerting?

The Siri user interface could be re-conceptualized to work on the iPad the same was Notification Center does -- as a drop down overlay.

It's workable, but not ideal.

The Mountain Lion solution

With OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple is bringing Notification Center to the Mac. Mac's are landscape-only devices, but instead of a drop-down overlay, Apple placed it off to side and, like the iPhone, put it "under" the Home screen.

Apple could implement Siri like they implement Notification Center on Mountain Lion, but even if it's slimmed down it might not look great in portrait mode.

That could potentially work as a more consistent implementation on iPad for Notification Center and Siri both. While in landscape mode. But as discussed above, the iPad is Apple's only real orientation agnostic device. And in portrait mode, the Mountain Lion solution may not look as good.

And there's a bigger problem.

Clock, Weather, and Stocks

If we look closely at the Siri mockup above, there something missing. Or rather there's something there that's missing on the iPad: the Clock, Weather, and Stocks apps (along with Calculator and Voice Memo). As mentioned above, rumor has it that Apple and Steve Jobs didn't think they looked any good scaled up to 9.7-inches. Whatever the reason, the iPhone has them and the iPad does not.

Siri ties into the iPhone Clock, Weather, and Stocks apps. The iPad doesn't have these apps. Problem?

And the problem is, Siri uses them.

  • "Set an alarm for 7:30"
  • "Do I need a raincoat in Cupertino?"
  • "What's Apple's stock price?"

Sure, the iPad doesn't need these apps for Apple to bake the functionality into Siri. Notification Center on the iPad does okay without these apps, but missing the weather and stocks widgets is still irksome. Siri would do okay with these apps as well, but it would likewise be irksome. On the iPhone I can go in an manually kill Alarms if and when I need to. I can change the local weather if and when I want to. Not necessary by any means, but nice.

Apple could add the Clock, Weather, and Stocks apps to the iPad. There are clock and weather and stocks for the iPad with well thought out user interfaces, so Apple could certainly figure it out, if it's something they decide to do.

Siri on iPad

I'd really like Siri on the iPad but there are some challenges Apple will need to overcome to make it a reality. Some of the best user experience designers on the planet work at Apple, though, and they've no doubt thought all of this through long ago. If they do decide to bring Siri to iPad, it'll be interesting to see how they figured it out.

Additional resources

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Good article with valid points, Rene. Rest assured though, Siri will be on the iPad 3 and likely the next versions of MacBooks and iMacs. Apple will find a way. They have plenty invested in Siri to make it work on all platforms.
  • By the way Rene, in your Mountain Lion section, I believe you mean "OS X", not "iOS X". Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Time flies fast enough :-)
  • Why is that egg on your face? In just kidding. I was just as surprised that full Siri integration wasn't implemented on the new iPad. I think as mentioned above that it's a server issue. We may just see it in iOS6. It would be a great stand out feature for the software.
  • I don't think the connectivity issue is as much of a problem as one might think for wifi-only iPads. Speaking as someone who owns one (or at least did. I just sold mine so I can upgrade to a wifi iPad 3), I suspect that most who buy wifi-only iPads buy them because we use them where we always have wifi. It's different with iPhones. You pop an iPhone in your pocket and use it on the go. iPads are amazingly portable, of course, but still... I doubt it's a problem.
    Great post!
  • Good point, I don't usually take out my iPad unless I'm on wifi, most of the thing I do on it require an internet connection.
    They could only make it available on the 4g version, a reason to squeeze more money out of people and tell people it's because there's a greater chance you'll have an internet connection with the cellular radio.
  • Siri needs to be out of beta before it is really usable. Can't use most features in Canada as only USA maps are recognized. So can't use Siri to navigate.
    If I switch to UK English, as Siri has trouble recognizing my UK accent, Siri assumes I am in UK! So I have to use the North American version. I have stopped using Siri until Apple fixes "her".
  • Voice recognition software needs really long, really public beta periods to collect enough voice data from enough different people to become a good system. I'm guessing Siri will be in beta for a while still.
    My guess is Apple will be cautious and expand it slowly over time, for a long time to come.
  • The thing about Siri, apart from being in Beta and only fully capable in USA, is that it NEEDS the internet for things that seemingly shouldn't require an internet connection. I assume that when you ask Siri a question it sends your voice pattern, regardless of what you're asking, to the cloud and sends you the answer. This is the only logical reason why it always needs the Internet. What I'd like Siri to do is to be able to do things like setting the alarm/timer on my phone, writing an sms or note and other things that don't require info from external sources without being connected to the internet.
  • Regardless if what you ask or task Sii with is still needs to take what you said and change that into an action. That processing is NOT done locally.
  • Siri's highly overrated anyways, who cares if it's on it or not...
  • Apple better put Siri on iPad 3. No Siri and I won't who am I kidding. I'll buy one anyway, but with much disappointment.
  • Siri works Completely fine on my iPad 2 and in my iPhone 4 apple would be Dullards not to release it for the iPad HD
  • 3*
  • I figured it out. Apple is going to announce Widgits for the iPad with 5.1. Think about it, stocks, weather, clocks, calculator, and (possibly) Siri would work great as Widgits, and it would give Apple something more to brag about, if done correctly.
  • I may be Android biased but I didn't ever say anything offensive until I couldn't post on my old name and had my old post banned.
  • Your posts weren't banned. You tripped the auto-spam. I'm sorting through them now and will manually approve any that don't contain personal attacks, ridiculous levels of profanity, disgustingly vulgar references, or other content that violates our comment policy. Try to keep it productive though. Agree or disagree, you should be able to make any point you need to with grace and style.
    Apologies for any inconvenience.
  • The ipad and iphone interface is indeed not identical, we are also missing phone funtionality on the 3G ipad.
    Apple added the camera on ipad 2 even if it looks ridiculous to use an ipad as a camera.
    If we get Siri, there will need to be a good mic. Users will then be "having conversations" with the ipad so we might as well have the ability to make calls as well; all the hardware is there.
  • One minor thing: Macs are not purely landscape. You can rotate an external display, and it works fine.
  • Really good post. I hadn't considered half of that stuff. I would hope Siri might come to iPad 2 as well (wishful thinking probably).
  • I really don't want Siri on iPad 3 because serioisly it doesn't make sense, why should I have a huge iPhone that does't dial a number? My primary use of Siri is to call people and it works great, I have no audio on iPad so there is no point in that.
    Mostly my iPad is at home and my children use it most and they don't have any real use of it unless it could be used with external applications.
  • Another apple fail! LOOOOOOOOL
  • I'm blown away that Rene can't wrap his head around the idea that Apple can scale Siri and other apps right. That seems like a ridiculous notion to me. And the while thing about Internet connection? Dude, Siri, like safari, maps, and countless AppStore apps, will just be one of those things that won't work unless you're on wifi. Anyway, I imagine people w wifi-only iPads don't get very mobile w their device. I feel pretty confident that the next iPad will have Siri. It is now the flagship feature on Apple's flagship device. For it to remain iPhone-only seems foolish. Rene, seems like you're just pontificating for the sake of pontificating.
  • 1) I said twice in the article that I was sure Apple has already figured this out, I was just interested in which way they were going.
    2) I never said Apple couldn't scale apps. The story that went around after the iPad launched without Clock, Weather, and Stocks was that Steve Jobs thought they looked silly at iPad size and so killed them.
    3) I said exactly the same thing about internet connection
    Sorry if I wasn't clear. Reading the article before commenting would probably help. Though it'd be way less ironic :)
  • I guess, then, I'm just wondering what the point was. If you feel like they can do all the things you say are "challenges" then they either will or they won't. If they can do those things and Siri doesn't show up on the next iPad, then why isn't it there? Would have to be a decision based on economics or marketing. Your article would be more poignant if you hypothesized from those points of view instead of a hardware/software angle. By your own admission, apparently, Apple can resolve those minor obstacle to get Siri on iPad 3.
  • Read the article :)
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