Siri, Apple’s artificial intelligence-driven digital secretary exclusive to iPhone 4S, is being worked on, improved and is about to get smarter, a pair of job openings indicate. This doesn’t come as such a big surprise because Siri – uncharacteristically for Apple – launched as a beta product because it had to (and thus its lack of fit and finish).
Apple’s Siri user interface manager Dan Keen pointed at two job openings for experienced iOS software engineers to join the team that implements the user interface for Siri and help “make the next big thing even bigger”. Both posts specifically mention the Siri API. The company explains in the iOS software engineer description (emphasis is ours):
You’ll need to work with them to enable access to their data and behaviors, and wire them up to your implementations. As a result, strong API design is needed to keep communications ideal.
The other job post, for senior iOS software engineer, is even less ambiguous about the API:
We are looking for an engineer to join the team that implements the UI for Siri. You will primarily be responsible for implementing the conversation view and its many different actions. This includes defining a system that enables a dialog to appear intuitive, a task that involves many subtle UI behaviors in a dynamic, complex system. You will have several clients of your code, so the ability to formulate and support a clear API is needed.
Note the above description doesn’t necessarily mean Apple will in fact open up the Siri API to third-parties – they could keep it private until they smooth out the rough edges and remove the beta tag. Also, “several clients” accessing the API could simply refer to external data sources Siri taps to deliver results, such as Wolfram Alpha, Yelp and more. Interestingly, the potential candidates should be familiar with Unix, “especially Mac OS X”, and display “passion for the Macintosh platform”, which might indicate a possible Siri port for the Mac, although that’s a stretch.
If history is an indication, Apple opening up Siri to third-party apps is a matter of when, not if. Clearly such a move would satisfy public hunger for Siri uses beyond core feature set. Think talking to your apps, saying stuff like “Update my Facebook status saying ‘Is anyone up for a movie tonight?’” or “Spotify, play my running playlist”. Make no mistake, the public Siri API could be huge and here’s why.
Much like the original iPhone had debuted with no support for third-part apps (as Jobs opposed an app store concept), Siri has launched as a restricted feature, which hasn’t stopped hackers to devise unofficial ways of taking advantage of the Siri functionality. Siri has been hacked to run on jailbroken iPhone 4s and fourth-generation iPod touches and some of the tweaks include using Siri to manage a radio-controlled thermostat, control your Plex media center and start your car, to name just a few. Siri currently understands and can speak English, French and German. Apple wrote in the Siri FAQ on its web site that “in 2012, Siri will support additional languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish”. A LinkedIn profile belonging to Apple’s language technologies engineer Chen Zhang indicates that work is underway to complete Siri support for the Chinese market.