The release of a Siri-hacking instruction manual has made it possible for developers to push the limits of Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant. Most recently, Apple’s technology was modded to control a thermostat. But Siri — and voice control in general — could soon be used to take over our entire home experience.
Web developer Pete Lamonica is the brain behind the thermostat hack. He can now tell Siri to check his thermostat’s status, and change the temperature at which the heater or air conditioner turns on. Lamonica started on his project last Tuesday after Applidium released its instructions for cracking Siri using a custom SSL certification authority. The complete project took about five days.
“I had originally planned to do something similar to that College Humor skit, then I thought I could have it control my wireless thermostat. I created a proxy to accomplish that,” Lamonica says. He’s a member of the St. Louis-area hackerspace Arch Reactor. “I’ve done some stuff with the thermostat before, such as having it log temperatures. It has a developer API which makes it very easy to work with.”
The timing of Lamonica’s project is impeccable. Less than a month ago, the designer of the iPod, Tony Fadell, released a smart thermostat called the Nest, and now we’re seeing Lamonica use another Apple device to control a much more prosaic thermostat model.
Lamonica says the main reason he developed this Siri proxy was to increase the number of objects Siri can handle. Right now, Siri’s library of what it can do is very small, and limited to tasks like sending text messages, displaying maps, showing results from Wolfram Alpha, and all the other somewhat familiar things that have already been well-documented by Apple. “Increasing the number of things that developers can do is priority number one,” Lamonica says.
Developers have had varied success porting Siri to other devices, such as the iPhone 4 and iPod touch. Others have used Siri’s current range of talents to accomplish new tasks, such as using her tweet-sending functionality to pour a glass of beer via an elaborate Rube Goldberg-style scheme employing a toy truck. Voice control and artificial intelligence applications are only just beginning to be exploited, and Siri is becoming a major player in the movement — albeit without Apple’s blessings.
Sure, Apple could encourage third-party Siri development, but that’s not likely anytime soon. Apple generally locks down its technologies, and frowns on jail-breaking and other activities that might diminish the iOS experience or break a device.
NPD analyst Ross Rubin expects Apple to expand Siri on a more limited basis, scenario by scenario, possibly partnering with specific companies to implement new features, such as Siri’s current integration with Yelp.
Nonetheless, as long as Applidium’s hack still works, developers have the opportunity to see just what else Siri can do.
Lamonica, for one, has more plans for Siri integration. “My fiance wants me to make it so that the thermostat turns on when she says ‘I’m hot’ or ‘I’m cold,’” Lamonica says. “I also want to get it to control our Xbox Media Center, so I can say things like ‘TV pause’ or ‘TV play.’”
Indeed, using one’s voice for remote control is a natural fit for living room applications — and we’ll be seeing more of it in coming years, says Display Search analyst Paul Gagnon.
“There’s been pretty strong resistance to adopting traditional PC-like interfaces,” Gagnon says of the connected TV movement, which has had a rocky time making the jump into consumer households. “Up until now, the technology hadn’t progressed enough to let you use non-traditional ways, like gesture recognition and voice control, but now it’s a conceivable option.”
Still, Gartner analyst Van Baker points out that voice control isn’t always the best option in some situations. It doesn’t work well in noisy environments, and it can be equal parts frustrating and beneficial, Baker told Wired.com in an email.
“I don’t think we will see voice become a mainstream UI anytime soon,” Baker wrote. “That said, I am sure that the industry will try to make voice the center of a whole range of new products.” Gagnon concurs, and anticipates 2013 as the year when voice-based UIs hit the mainstream.
Gagnon sees Apple being a major player in voice-control innovation, perhaps leading the way with a much anticipated HD television set. Rumors peg the launch of Apple’s TV for late 2012 at the earliest.
Whenever voice control does start inundating our every household gadget, it’s not likely to be the result of an open platform, or even a platform shared by all manufacturers. For companies to make a profit and ensure a quality experience, they’ll “need more of a closed architecture,” Gagnon says. “You can’t capture meaningful differentiation if it’s based on an open standard.”
Bummer. But I still can’t wait to begin bossing around my toaster, dishwasher and thermostat, even if they don’t all incorporate the same system. In the meantime, though, we can watch devs, like Lamonica, accomplish thermostat control with Siri.