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Could Apple’s Siri be a threat to search engines?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
24 October 2011

Now that Siri has been “out” for a couple of weeks, the Apple-buying public have had a chance to get used to its features – and its “quirks” too. It’s about this sort of time (based on the release of similar “game-changing” products in the past) that the shine starts to fade and the gripe-list begins getting longer.

But Apple fans are a loyal group, in the main, and we’ve seen a lot less Siri-bashing than you might expect so far. Apart from the more “fun” aspects of voice recognition and its limitations, and the funny easter-egg answers that the Apple devs have built in to the app, we’ve not seen much probing of Siri’s functionality yet.

We’ve been testing Siri on a variety of queries this past week, to mixed results. But at this point Apple are quite clear to state that Siri is NOT currently optimised to work in the UK (or using Queen’s English speech, apparently) so it’s probably unfair to start reeling-off the laundry list quite yet. But one thing that HAS struck us is how Siri acts as an additional layer to searches – and what that mean for the search engines.

As this blog points out, reps from Google and Microsoft have been quick to criticise Siri and its foibles – despite rumours of several Android versions in the works (especially the cutely named IRIS – see what they did there?). Could it be that they’re worried about how Siri will impact the way Apple users treat search engines?

I should point out at this point that the searches we’ve done MAY be giving biased results because we’re in the UK – it’d be interesting to know whether the same query examples listed below act the same way in the US, if anyone wants to try them?

At first glance, Siri (in its current form) isn’t have a big impact on the search engines. The majority of searches I tried – at least the sort of searches most marketers would be worried about – resulted in Siri failing and suggesting I do a search using my default search engine instead. Below are a few examples:

But the current situation actually masks a number of developments Siri COULD release which would definitely impact how people use search engines. Namely:

  1. Unless you’re VERY trusting, you’ve got to be imagining that Apple are collecting up all the data that is passing through Siri to use in developing their own search engine – something which has been rumoured for many years now. If they DO launch their own, Siri would be the perfect testing ground to beta-test it, too.
  2. Failing that – or perhaps until “iSearch” is ready – Apple could quite conceivably make a global tie-in deal with any of the major search engines to link all searches to one particular engine, thus taking a not-insignificant bite in to the other engine’s cake.
  3. More significantly than either of the above two points, if users become accustomed to conducting searches via their voice rather than text, this could really change the search landscape – and potentially change the way results need to be returned.
  4. Finally, the ability for Siri to integrate a social layer will actually be a lot easier than it seems to have proven for the search engines, which may lead to it becoming a far more rounded search approach than traditional search engines. Features like “Find My Friends” being integrated alongside more traditional searches could be a REALLY powerful tool for Apple…

In current form, Siri won’t have Google and Microsoft losing much sleep, it has to be said. But you’d have to be very niaive to imagine Apple won’t be developing some (or all) of the above to integrate in to Siri in future releases, at which point the major search engines could face a lot more stress from the voice-activated personal assistant which has been taking the geek world by storm… Just wait and see!

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