Siri, the Platform: Services and Siri Threads
Siri can become a platform. A place where you can talk to friends, family, and colleagues all in the one medium, a medium aided by services.
Not a just mail chute on the side of your device you open to whisper a question or slip through a note and then wait for a response back.
The world Siri lives in needs to involve communication of all sorts. It needs to involve the app you are currently using, not remove you from it. It needs to allow the conversations and its findings be saved, not to be a springboard to somewhere else and have everything thrown away.
Pressing the home button currently summons Siri in her alternate universe. I think it should instead bring her to yours.
In the Notes app, holding the Home button will allow you to dictate your words onto the page. At any moment during your dictation, you can ask ‘Hey Siri?’, and she will stop transcribing and follow your commands.
“Hey Siri, find Italian history on Wikipedia”
“Hey Siri, synonyms for ‘allow’”
“Hey Siri, add peaches to the shopping list”
“Hey Siri, slide over Calendar”
“Hey Siri, take a screenshot”
If she has something to show, Siri will appear at the bottom of screen, replacing the keyboard if present. You can then tap to interact with her findings: in the case of synonyms, you can tap them to insert them as text; others, such as a web link or a calendar event or alarm, can be edited, and if necessary a tap will take you to the dedicated app.
Returning to typing and dictation is as simple as switching keyboards, with a dedicated Siri button for flicking back and forth.
Siri is your personal assistant. She acts as the agent between you and the world of services out there, and only shares with them what you allow. This information will be in an unidentifiable form where possible, relying on Apple Pay, broad location coordinates, and service-specific UUIDs.
Siri knows how to write a tight on-going contract between a service and yourself. You provide your consent by the way of Touch ID. At any time they can be revoked, leading services to forget you ever existed.
Services register themselves for responsibilities, Siri connects you to them. She can manage multiple services that handle the same subjects by asking for your preference, remembering it for later.
To help make your decision, you can see preferred services from friends, or see aggregate star ratings from reviews. You can also read review summaries from Apple-picked websites, such as The Verge and Macstories.
Services can returns lists of results, interactive graphics and imagery, video, web links, multipage documents, and multiple choice questions. Each UI capability has an entitlement, and each requested entitlement is reviewed by Apple, so services can’t gain new capabilities unnoticed.
Services can connect to other services, allowing information to flow with your overseeing. By using standard formats for information, the result of one service can be input into another, allowing rich workflows in a natural manner.
Services can start new threads of conversation, and you can merge multiple threads into one. You can invite other people into your threads. In fact, every conversation in iMessage becomes a Siri Thread.
Siri Threads also allow you to break up conversations by task, not by people. Think of them like Slack channels, with yourself and Siri initially invited.
You can collaborate with others, and get the same map, booking details, photo feed, or list of links, without having to manually message or airdrop them across. At any time Siri is available on call to any participant to assist everyone: she does the work while people are free to discuss and make decisions.
Each thread can get its own glance from the services within. Everyone involved could glance at weather details, directions on a map, or the time to the next meeting. Just pin a message or service to have it become the glanced content.
The review process for Siri Services is much more stringent than those the App Store. Services will be in the cloud, where developers can update them at any time, so it is important that they be trustworthy and of a high quality.
Available on all devices
Unlike an app, a service does not target a specific device. They use a series of content formats that get presented by Apple on the target device. Create a single service, and it will be accessible on the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.
By default, past interactions with Siri are saved, up to a limit determined by a person’s iCloud plan.
Every detected piece of information, every bit of context, and every finding is saved in these conversation histories. They can be copied and pasted and interacted with again. You can use them as a basis for a new Siri conversation.
Conversations can also be saved to Notes, with content intact. A note can act like a private Siri Thread just for you, with Touch ID protection.
Compartmentalise by content, not apps
With threads, the content truly becomes the focus and not the app. Safari gets tabs, so why can’t other apps? Why can’t I have more than one map, playlist, or book open at a time? Threads allow organization by thought, task, or collaborators, not by service.
Documents could be shared within a thread, and then opened in their app. Changes made would be saved back to the thread, with version history keeping earlier revisions. This breaks apart the more traditional structure of iCloud Drive, orienting around topics and participants, instead of around files.
iOS 9 introduced ‘Proactive’, with suggested apps and contacts, nearby places, and the latest news. I think Siri Threads could replace all of this.
Glances allow you to see the latest from threads just by scrolling past them, making it handy for news, upcoming appointments, messages, Wallet passes, and that incoming Uber. Simply say (or search) the name of a service or person to scroll down to the appropriate thread.
Intelligence, based on previous behaviour and time of day, could help rank threads through an opt-in preference from the user. Or users can outright pin the most important ones to the top. For the most part, Siri Threads are ordered by latest new activity.
Notifications originating from actions within a Siri Thread will keep their context. Notifications can be pushed to several people at once, like Slack integrations. And Notification Center will be grouped by thread, essentially acting as an unread messages list.
Home screen preference
Possibly one day Siri Threads could optionally take priority as home screen. The traditional icon screen would be available with a right-to-left swipe.
Today widgets have lacked substantial uptake from apps, and I think Glances from Siri Threads could replace them. Important threads can be pinned to the top, appearing in both the replacement proactive screen and in the today list in Notification Center.
Beyond platform iOS
Sadly, one of the most notable things about the app stores of the Apple Watch and TV is the lack of third party apps. By being largely device agnostic, Siri could become a shared platform for all of Apple’s devices, just like Facebook Messenger and Slack. Service developers would comply with standard information formats, and then Apple can present them with the best user experiences for each device.
Siri becomes integrated with iOS, instead of another layer on top of the traditional app-based user interface. Siri can assist in any app, allowing you to interact with a range of services whilst relying on Apple’s tight control of privacy.
Siri Threads combine the traditional Siri assistant with third party services and multi-person messaging. It becomes a powerful tool for communication and task management. Glances boil the information down, appropriate as replacements for Today widgets and Proactive shortcuts.
It unifies many disparate parts of iOS into a consistent paradigm, and allows third-party services to powerfully integrate with iOS and Apple’s other operating systems.