The Real Future of the iPhone

I’m one of those people that reads into the minutiae of feature updates. I read app-update notes and keep a keen eye on a variety of different blogs covering the same topics in tech. The ways in which product teams iterate on their products based on (ideally) user needs behaviours fascinates me. An OS update is usually quite exciting for this reason. I remember watching WWDC with my friends at ustwo earlier this year. We were thrilled to finally witness the unveiling of Monument Valley 2 to the world and excited to find out if there would be any significant changes to our workflow considering that many of us design and build for iOS. There were some more obvious design tweaks, such as tweaks to typography, but one of the most profound and impactful changes I’ve discovered through playing with the beta is an accessibility setting.

If you navigate to the settings app on your iOS device, tap into General, then Accessibility and finally into Siri, you’re presented with a toggle for ‘type to Siri’. In isolation this doesn’t seem too profound for the everyday consumer. Outside of the huge accessibility implications, we have a small convenience bump. That was my initial assumption, at least. Having had the chance to play with it a little, I believe that this could fundamentally change the way we interact with our phones. Siri is already an incredibly powerful tool (yes, it could be better…), but we’re just not in a place where enough of us are comfortable speaking to our phones in public. I’ll always feel a little self-conscious while murmuring ‘Hey Siri’ even when home alone, hands dirty and with the need of a timer for the meal I’m cooking. Type to Siri opens up this world of utility to an input method that many of us are familiar with.

Enabling ‘Type to Siri’ on iOS 11

There are a few updates to recent versions of iOS that have paved the way for this to be successful. The adjustment of how we unlock our phones being one of them. The fact that hovering a thumb or finger is enough to unlock the device means that we can access all of Siri’s functionality which would usually be hidden behind a passcode when activating via ‘Hey Siri’, as invoking Siri with a long press of the home button passively unlocks the device. Again, this may not seem too huge, but this means that I can now long press on the home button and type ‘text Mum Let’s grab breakfast on Monday’. From here we deal with the standard Siri confirmation interaction. This surpasses in ease the previous journey of unlocking, navigating to the messages app, selecting a contact and typing a message.

Sending a text from Siri in iOS 11

As you can see below, my Springboard is quite organised. Each screen has only 4 rows of apps/folders. This is to allow the wallpaper some space to breathe, to build a certain amount of friction to support me in staying productive, and to help me access frequently used apps quickly. For example, the Google Home app is one that I use very rarely, often only when I need to set up a Chromecast. For this reason, it’s in the last folder on the last screen. If I want to access it, then I currently have to unlock my phone, swipe left 4 times, tap on the utilities folder and tap on Google Home. This new Siri functionality can undercut that by long-pressing when I pick up my phone and typing ‘Open Google Home’. It can be argued that typing is often more taps than navigating, but realistically, many of us are incredibly proficient with mobile keyboards. And don’t doubt that Apple are looking at more productive ways to input on our devices…

The 5th screen of my iPhone’s Springboard

As the text examples shows, the convenience extends past opening apps, but to navigating them. Instead of opening the Music app and searching for Green Leaves Leif Erikson, we can now type ‘Play Green Leaves by Leif Erikson’. It’s nearly the same amount of typing, but simplifying the entry point. From playing a song, opening an app, sending a message to asking about the weather, I was surprised at just how much utility this feature has. I don’t feel too hesitant in suggesting that this could entirely replace the Springboard. It’s a chatbot that has genuine utility and (mostly) works. Who’d have thought.

One last point to touch upon is intent. Every owner of a smartphone is guilty of wasting time by swiping back and forth between pages of apps in attempt to find something to distract themselves. Replacing the Springboard with Siri would encourage intent, we would only open apps that we are looking for as opposed to browsing for a distraction. In an age of ubiquitous screens, it’s often argued that this is very good thing. I’m a believer that responsible usage of technology can help us live better lives. I’ve bought into the eco-system; I wear an Apple Watch and use an iPhone. I feel it a responsibility to scrutinise the value that these bring to my life and have subsequently found a balance that works for me. I’m excited to try relying on Siri instead of the Springboard and exploring how my behaviour and usage changes over time.

This entry point has driven home just how much utility Siri has and has given me a new found appreciation for it as an accessibility tool. Of course, there are many questions posed around the iPhone X and how this paradigm looks going forward, but I’m excited to see if Apple tap into this type of interface in the coming years.