Hey Cortana, why can’t I use Siri on a Mac?

You can use Cortana on a Mac, but not Siri. Why does this make sense?

Cortana

Am I the only person who doesn’t’ understand why Microsoft’s Cortana has (sort of) beaten Siri to arrive on the Mac platform? It just seems such a lost opportunity.

Cortana doesn’t even need to run natively on the Mac – you must install Parallels Desktop for Mac 11,(c.$79.95) to run Windows 10 natively on a Mac. Once you install Windows in this then Microsoft’s Cortana assistant is available across both Mac and Windows.

In practice this means you can be working in Photos or Pages on a Mac and can summon support from Cortana using the magic phrase, “Hey Cortana”. That’s a role Siri should be filling, particularly as the inherent technology improves.

Previously published Apple/Siri patents reveal the company already agrees that: “The integration of an at least partially voice-controlled intelligent digital assistant into a desktop, laptop, and/or tablet computer environment provides additional capabilities to the digital assistant, and enhances the usability and capabilities of the desktop, laptop, and/or tablet computer."

Why doesn’t it?

Apple has previously called Siri “an entire miniature OS within the OS....” The company already has Siri for iOS devices and (we hear) soon on Apple TV – but hasn’t yet deployed it on Macs.

This seems a shame given many existing Spotlight search functions would make as much sense if made available via voice commands on a Mac. Perhaps Apple fears introducing additional complexity to the OS.

Macs are already quite capable of supporting speech – just take a look at the Dictation and speech recognition they already provide. These already allow some “remote control” of the Mac. Theoretically Siri would enable more features, better search tools and improved comprehension. (Here is how to train Siri to work for you better on iOS).

What it is doing

Siri continues to improve. The latest iOS 9 beta includes a range of new tools, significant performance increases and numerous new queries you can request from Siri. Meanwhile in the back rooms, Apple developers continue to implement new features and application support for future release. For example, Apple Insider last week noted an Apple job opening for a developer focused on deepening Siri support in Apple Music. Siri is already quite capable of handling some complex requests in Apple Music (Read ‘Your essential Siri and Apple Music guide’ for some tips on using these).

How would Siri on Mac work?

Remember that patent application we mentioned? Take a look and you’ll see that Apple visualizes Siri on a Mac as acting like a “third hand”, enabling users to get things done while remaining within an application. The assistant wouldn’t only be responsive to requests, but would have a sense of context – so actions it could take would partially be delineated by the position of the cursor. (If the cursor was above text in a document you could speak copy and paste, for example). The most likely interpretation of the patent is to consider Siri as capable of replicating almost any task on your Mac.

Force Touch

Apple’s biggest UI improvement for years, Force Touch is only now seeing deployment across its platforms. There’s lots of optimism surrounding the new technology, and it seems possible Apple decided to focus its UI changes only on Force Touch, opting to cancel other plans while it familiarizes users with it. Are Force Touch and Siri compatible in user interface design? For the present, at least, Mac users don’t know. But for the cost of a copy of Parallels and Windows 10, (around $200 all told) they can always ask Cortana…

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

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Jonny Evans

Computerworld (US)
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