Mar 5 2014, 5:06pm CST | by Forbes
For anyone that wants Siri to do more than set iCal appointments and dictate SMS messages, there may be hope beyond a hack. Apple is reportedly working on allowing third-party services to integrate with Siri so that the iPhone’s digital assistant can carry out tasks — book flights or send texts on other messaging apps — which go beyond the services Apple can provide. Currently Siri syncs to other services with whom Apple has made business arrangements, such as Wolfram Alpha or Open table, but future integrations wouldn’t require painstaking deals according to the report from tech news service The Information.
Apple needs to step up Siri’s abilities in the face of mounting competition from Google Now and a Siri-like digital assistant that Microsoft is reportedly bringing to Windows Phone in early April, called Cortana. Even voice recognition firm Nuance, whose technology powers Siri, is said to be augmenting its own digital assistant Wintermute with the ability to search a multitude of third-party apps, according to one source close to the project.
It’s clear that iPhone users want digital assistants like Siri to work with other services. Earlier this week a group of freshman computer-science and business students at the University of Pennsylvania presented a work-around they’d come with in a 40-hour hackathon, which with an eventual app will, they claim, force Siri to give commands to other third-party services like Instagram or Spotify. The hack takes a minute, requires no jailbreaking, and involves typing the URL of the student’s own server into your iPhone’s WiFi settings.
Though it’s still at the concept stage, the hack works by redirecting the iPhone to a spoof of Siri that the students created, called GoogolPlex. Crucially, instead of spoofing Siri’s servers (which allowed Apple to shut out a similar hack called SiriProxy in 2012) the server is a proxy for Google’s.
It means an extra, cumbersome step of opening Safari on the iPhone but also provides an extra layer of protection, says one of the students, 18-year-old Ajay Patel. “So Apple can’t shut it down.”
Next week the students are launching a GoogolPlex iOS app that will sync Siri with with third-party apps like popular payment service Venmo, in a way the current hack can’t yet. Patel insists Apple won’t reject it from the App Store. “It’s not breaking any of Apple’s terms of services,” he says. “All it’s doing is interfacing with other APIs, so it should be fine.”
Having developing iOS apps for about three years, Patel says he’s been patiently waiting for Apple to release an open API for Siri that would allow it to integrate with other apps. “It never does.” Apple may be concerned that developers won’t understand natural language processing well enough to make a decent integration.
Even if the iPhone maker does have plans to open up Siri as The Information is reporting, it will likely still be very, very restricted,” says Patel, not unlike the way applications on Apple TV currently work. Such is Apple’s Catch 22: It needs to do something about Siri. With its current functionality so limited amid greater competition, fewer people may want to use it.
Here’s a short video of the setup process for GoogolPlex:
Source: Forbes Apple
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