A favorite UI in context – Siri

One of my favorite UIs—mainly for its simplicity—is that of the iPhone’s Siri. There is almost no UI, and that is part of what I love about it. I use Siri only for the most simple and mundane of tasks: setting reminders, setting alarms, setting timers, and the like. Using her (I’ll use that pronoun since the voice is female) allows me to accomplish my goals much more quickly. When I use the GUI to set an alarm for the next day, I’m required to tap at least a few times, and also use fine motor skills to rotate a digital dial to the exact minute that I want the alarm to chime. In contrast, when using Siri I can simply speak clearly, and then see my request echoed in a visual format for confirmation after Siri takes care of it. Referencing activity theory gives me an insight into this particular draw of using Siri: Siri allows me to accomplish my intentions much more easily than I can with the GUI. My activity and interactions with her are goal-oriented, as activity theory points out.

Another pertinent point from activity theory concerns the issue of development. My usage of Siri is so simple that it’s unlikely my “skills” in using her for those purposes will develop mightily, but one of the reasons I enjoy using Siri is that her “skills” develop continually. Apple can update her algorithms and databases in the background, and all that I’m aware of is that she can suddenly hear me better, or come up with better answers, or simply do something more than she could before. This is slightly different than Kaptelinin and Nardi explained, because it is the object that is doing the developing, but I think it points to a key importance in whether people enjoy interacting with Siri. If her skills didn’t develop and improve, we would soon tire of her and her oddities.

Finally, a third reason that I can deduce for why I enjoy using Siri is that the interface allows me to jump around to whatever topic or task I care to do, in whatever order I desire. As highlighted in Dourish, humans when using tangible or ubiquitous interfaces do not approach tasks sequentially. The fact that Siri allows me to do this is no doubt one of the reasons I enjoy using her in contrast to the GUI, which has a very structured approach to setting an alarm or timer, and requires more than a single step.

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