Siri: Enabler of more data consumption, not the root cause

Written on:January 9, 2012
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Last week, Arieso released a report stating iPhone 4S users were consuming twice the data as their iPhone 4 counterparts. Arieso placed the blame squarely on Siri, the new personal assistant that allows users to initiate searches and basic phone actions through voice command. Siri, however, is just a scapegoat. Siri may be the mechanism for more searches on the iPhone 4S, but the application itself consumes a miniscule amount of data.

I reached out to Vlad Sejnoha, CTO of Nuance Communications, which provides the automated voice recognition technology that powers Siri. Sejnoha said he couldn’t comment on Siri specifically, but generally network voice recognition platforms send highly compressed audio files from the phone to network-based servers any time a voice command is initiated. Nuance’s own Dragon Go voice-search app usually only sends tens of kilobytes per voice prompt, and the amount of data sent back to the device is even tinier, since Dragon Go doesn’t have to futz around with an audio recording on the return path, Sejnoha said.

However, that doesn’t mean Siri isn’t driving more data usage even if it isn’t draining bandwidth itself. Sejnoha said that voice-driven user interfaces and natural speech recognition are encouraging more and deeper searches for mobile web content simply because the technology is easier to use on the go than the usual finger-tap methods. If customers are using Siri to get to video sharing and streaming sites or using it to find applications to download more often and more easily, then you would expect a big increase in data usage.

“Invoking searches or media consumption may require greater bandwidth, but no more than if these actions were initiated in conventional ways, and the size of the data ‘payload’ can vary immensely depending on what the user is doing,” Sejnoha said in an email.

Still, it’s hard to imagine those Siri-driven searches are producing a doubling of data traffic to the 4S versus the iPhone 4. You can use Siri to easily get to YouTube or Pandora websites, but Siri can’t open the YouTube or Pandora iOS apps, which are infinitely more useful for actually streaming video and music. Many of Siri’s most tantalizing features – setting reminders, dictating text messages, initiating calls, getting weather and schedule updates – would consume only the most miniscule amount of network data. The bevy of new features in the iPhone 4S, from iCloud over-the-air music and data synchronization to its more powerful processor, all could be contributing to an explosion in data usage much more than Siri.

It’s more accurate to look at Siri as another of Apple’s long line of user interface innovations — the original iPhone touchscreen, the first Safari microbrowser and the concept of the mobile app – that have made it subsequently easier for smartphone users to interact with Internet services on a tiny device.

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