Yes Siri, no Siri, for the Mac

Speculation starts about OS X 10's contents, emphasis

Apple's next version of OS X will probably not include Siri, the digital, voice-activated assistant embedded in the iPhone and iPad, an analyst predicted.

"Siri would require hardware modifications as well as software," noted Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research on Monday. "I expect that Siri will show up in some future edition, but I don't think it's urgent at this point."

But an expert very familiar with the insides of iOS devices disagreed.

Aaron Vronko, the CEO of Michigan-based Rapid Repair, an iPhone and iPad repair service, said there's nothing precluding Siri from running on current Mac hardware.

Most of the processing workload is done on Apple's servers, not locally, Vronko said, and Macs have audio processing chipsets -- and in the case of the Retina-equipped MacBook Pro, multiple microphones -- to match what's inside the iPhone.

Even Macs with a single microphone could handle Siri, although with less accuracy, Vronko argued. On the iPhone 5, Siri relies on three mics (the iPhone 4S, the first Apple device to support Siri, sported two) to strip out background noise and produce a higher-quality audio signal.

Yet a one-mic Mac wouldn't be a deal breaker. "You'd expect a Mac to be in a quieter environment," Vronko noted. "When you're talking [to Siri] on an iPhone, you're often in a car or in a crowd."

Although current Mac notebooks could manage Siri, there's no guarantee Apple would do so, Vronko said. "It's been hacked to work on all kinds of devices," he pointed out, even though Apple has limited it to the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, iPad Mini and third-generation and later iPad. In other words, Apple might leverage Siri to sell new Macs tweaked specifically for the service, and bar it from running on older machines.

Some have dismissed the usefulness of voice ask-and-answer technologies on personal computers, pointing out that because even notebooks are relatively immobile compared to smartphones, voice-activated queries and commands would be redundant when a keyboard is handy.

Vronko didn't buy that. "It may be important to Apple to expand the Siri ecosystem to get even more people used to the technology," he said.

Gottheil echoed that, noting the appearance of Google Now, the search giant's answer to Siri, on iOS on Monday. "[Voice] is pretty significant long term," Gottheil said. "Google Now legitimizes this interface. Apple has a lead in a clearly protectable arena, but [Google Now] legitimizes voice, sort of like when Microsoft legitimized the graphic user interface when it borrowed it from Apple, and when Apple borrowed it from [Xerox] PARC."

Talk of Siri's moving to the Mac has circulated since Apple debuted the technology in 2011 on the iPhone 4S, but the one edition of OS X shipped since then, mid-summer 2012's Mountain Lion, added only dictation.

Last year, 9to5Mac.com, citing unnamed sources, claimed that Siri was destined for OS X 10.9, an edition that has yet to be branded with a feline nameplate. Monday, the popular Apple-centric blog seemed unsure.

"It is unclear if full Siri support is still in the cards for OS X 10.9 or if the functionality will be glued to future hardware updates," 9to5Mac said Monday.

Apple could use a lever like Siri to pry Mac sales out of the doldrums. During the first quarter, Mac sales were down 2% from the same period a year ago, even though it included iMac sales in quantity for the first time since late October 2012.

9to5Mac spelled out other changes its sources anticipate will show in OS X 10.9, including enhancements to the Finder file manager, multi-monitor support for full-screen applications, and iOS-like multitasking features to curtail power consumption on MacBooks.

Gottheil had his own list of improvements he wanted to see in OS X, some of them more ambitious than the tinkering 9to5Mac outlined.

"I think an area they can explore further is a real database for the file system," Gottheil said. "We've ended up with this half-baked system. There's a real opportunity to make applications more aware of the files they created."

Gottheil doubted that Apple would push hard to bring OS X even further in line with iOS, however. That trend, which started with Lion in 2011, won't be sustained, he speculated.

"To the extent that it doesn't detract, they'll keep adding iOS features," Gottheil said. "But Apple is actually benefiting from the divergence of mobile from PCs. I think it doesn't want to contaminate OS X with too much of iOS."

In his eyes, Apple has an opportunity to stress the differences between tablets and personal computers as its rivals -- Microsoft mostly, but also Google with its Chrome OS -- argue that the two platforms should converge, resulting in devices with traits of both.

Apple will provide developers with a preview of OS X 10.9 at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the company's annual programmers confab that kicks off June 10.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has not discussed a release timetable to the next edition of OS X. Although the last two iterations shipped in July 2011 and July 2012, the later seeding to developers this year hints at an on-sale date deep into the fall.

This article, Yes Siri, no Siri, for the Mac, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Yes Siri, no Siri, for the Mac" was originally published by Computerworld.

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