Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Siri as a Substitute for On-Line Help.

Currently, iOS has no built-in help apart from Apple publications available in the form of iBooks or a link to a Web page, while the Mac's help system is rather scant on documentation and is not assistive (although Apple Help can execute AppleScripts or other tools in response to following links). Apple is missing an opportunity here to allow users to ask their device (be it a phone or a desktop computer) how to perform functions without going through inadequate help documentation, whether on-line or locally installed on a computer system.

For the basic requirements of a computer system help service, why can't Apple employ Siri to help?

On both Mac and iOS, Siri could be used to answer questions about how to use your computer's system software and applications. If implemented properly, Siri can offer a much richer and more interactive interface to on-line help, because:

  1. Siri can obtain the context (window, dialogue, mode, driver or device state, frontmost application, etc.) of the of the system and hence, get more information about the question being asked without the user having to explicitly mention such details,
  2. where Siri cannot discover enough of the state of the system to place the query into context, Siri can follow up questions with previous answers, to allow users to focus in on the topics of interest, and
  3. while Siri could respond with speech, Siri could go one step further (in the direction of System 7's Apple Guide and AppleScript) and actually perform work for you, just like how Siri performs many tasks on iOS.

It may not sit well for those who do not want to speak to Siri about how to use the device Siri is hosted on. To support those who don't want to speak commands, Siri should also allow users to type the questions they want to ask in a text-entry user interface.

It's an elegant idea to a problem which has started to grow ever since the introduction of the World Wide Web and on-line documentation. Ever since computer manufacturers have stopped publishing manuals for their products, the recently-devised forms of help are becoming inadequate for obtaining the specifics of features that users demand but may never learn. Siri can be a new way to dispense product documentation in a way that does not require screen real-estate or local system services, much like how Siri operates today.

And having Siri on a Mac would be so much better than having Speech Recognition services lying around unused—currently, Macs don't use their speech recognition and synthesis technologies for anything other than mucking around, which is a pity.


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