A Siri that's based on typing rather than talking is something I've had on my wish list for years. iOS 9 got us some of the way there—Spotlight merged, in part, with Siri to provide for better, more contextual search and access to a wealth of useful information. In other words, queries have largely been handled. What's left is the ability to execute commands, and that's why I continue to hope for more in iOS 10.
Siri 'voice free'
Since its debut as part of iOS 5 in 2011, Apple has made incredible progress expanding the company's virtual personal assistant, Siri. It's moved onto our roads with Eyes Free and CarPlay, onto our wrists with Apple Watch, and into our living rooms with Apple TV. It speaks more languages than ever before, including Chinese and Hebrew, and is beginning to handle multi-language queries so you can ask for an English movie in French, for example. Siri can even do Voice ID now, so it can better differentiate your voice from others'.
No matter how enabling and useful Siri is, though, there will be times when it's simply not possible or socially acceptable to talk out loud to our phones or tablets. In those situations, being able to type "Cupertino weather" or even "Text Georgia I'll be late" would be incredibly useful.
iOS 9 made the first one possible. Simply pull down the search box from any Home screen or swipe over to Siri Recommendations on the "minus one" Home screen, type in "cupertino weather", and you get your answer. The second one, however, remains a beautiful dream. Type in "text Georgia I'll be late" and get... some offers to search the Web, App Store, or Maps.
Nature language is powerful. Siri has shown that for voice. The new smarter search has shown that, in part, for text. So has apps like Fantastical. It lets you add calendar appointments and reminders by merely typing them.
What makes this feature so tantalizing is that Siri can already handle commands input by text. Once you've made a voice query or command, an "edit" button appears. I can say "what's the weather in Cupertino" and Siri will tell me. Then I can tap the "Edit" button, change the text to "Text Georgia I'll be late", and Siri will quickly execute the input-via-text command and prepare the message.
That's what makes it so easy to imagine doing the same absent the first step: pulling down or swiping over into the search box and typing out the command to begin with.
Quick access to quick actions
Multiple points of entry into the Siri system don't increase complexity—they increase accessibility. If you don't want to access Siri via text, keep using voice. Can't use voice? Text is there for you. By making text an option, it opens the full range of Siri functionality to even more people in an even wider range of circumstances.
There are a lots of precedents. Quicksilver, LaunchBar, and Alfred have all offered text-based quick actions on the Mac for years. Just Type from webOS and Type and Go from BlackBerry have tried the same on mobile. Launch Center Pro has even made an icon-driven version work as far as current iOS limitations will allow.
With text-based access to Siri's engine, "Text Georgia I'm be late" is just one example of the type of quick-action that could be efficiently typed out. "Tweet Guy Wow, arrow was bananas!" could instantly send your status to social media. "Meeting with Mikah and Lory at 6 pm tomorrow" could add an event to your calendar.
I realize many people might not find this functionality valuable, especially since, in the years following my first request for it, iOS 9 has gotten us some of the way there. For people for whom typing is second nature, and for anyone with low or no hearing who still wants to tap into full-on Siri, however, it could be invaluable.
Like Notification Center, Control Center, the fast app switcher, or Siri over voice, no one has to access them who doesn't want to. This isn't about adding complexity—it's about increasing accessibility.
An (even) smarter search
There's a lot I'd like to see from Spotlight and Apple's text-based search in general, including and especially how it works on the stores. Nearest-neighbor and automatic search widening are all solved problems. Typing "Twetbot" should return "Tweetbot", just like it does with Google. Typing "Twitter" should absolutely return the most relevant, not just the most character-matching, results as well. It's incomprehensible that, decades after fuzzy/sloppy search became a thing, this still doesn't work on one of the most popular platforms in the world.
Likewise, there's a lot to talk about when it comes to the core Siri technology itself, especially with how it does—and doesn't—interface with the other apps and accessories that are increasingly important in a world where phones are not longer being built as platforms but are now the foundation upon which broader platforms are being built.
I'll save that for a future article, though. For now, iOS 10 is coming, and I'm hoping an even smarter search system, with quick action command support, will come with it. Type "fav" into Siri if you agree. Type "retweet" if you don't.
I've submitted this feature request to Apple: rdar://26213732.
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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.