The launch of the Apple iPhone 4S has people raving about Siri, the talking-assistant app. It lets users speak into their devices and the app fulfills requests like scheduling plans or replying to text messages. But it also works with music.
In the Apple video trailer for Siri, a person in running clothes asks the app to queue up his running playlist, and seconds later, the music starts. At first, this feels like a gimmick, but if and when Siri becomes integrated with music apps-such as Shazam, TuneWiki, Songkick, Pandora, and Spotify-it could transform music and the way people interact with it.
Currently, if a user wants to identify a song (the "problem"), first they must know that music-ID apps like Shazam and SoundHound exist (the "solution"). Then they must install one of the apps and understand how it works before they can tag a song that's playing on radio or TV.
But what if Shazam were linked to Siri? A user could ask Siri "What song is playing?" and it could prompt to install Shazam or another service, and once completed, Siri would work directly with it, cueing it to automatically identify a song the next time it is asked.
In this scenario, the user only needs to know they have a problem and it's up to Siri to solve it-and as time passes, the process by which it can offer solutions will only get smoother. At this point, there are several hoops to jump through in order for the user to get the result they want. But if music-ID ever became a standard iPhone feature, Siri could instantly return the desired answer.
(An Apple spokesperson declined Billboard.biz's request for comment on the company's future plans involving Siri and music. Right now, the app primarily carries out native iOS app functions. Prior to Apple acquiring the app, though, OpenTable, Eventful, and MovieTickets were among its growing ecosystem of partners.)
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Most music apps fail because they solve problems that not enough people have, or are sufficiently aware of. With Siri, Apple will continue to provide solutions to problems people don't know they have in the first place.
And this is why Siri could revolutionize music. Most people don't care about individual apps -- they care about the problems they solve and, often, the time that can be saved. Indeed, it removes even thinking about apps from the equation -- and makes them work more like iPhone features than pieces of software.
If an iPhone user asks Siri what the lyrics to "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey are, many people won't care much whether TuneWiki or any other app fulfils the request. All that matters to them is that their request gets fulfilled in a timely manner, and that they're soon happily singing, "Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world." Similarly, if a user is seeking concert listings for the night, which match up to the songs on their iPhone, they're unconcerned whether Songkick, Bandsintown, or Ticketmaster produces the results as long as they get them fast and accurately.
Siri fundamentally changes how iPhone users think of apps, which is the point. "It's our job as technologists to make the most efficient and effective product for the end-user," says RootMusic founder and CEO J Sider, who says he admires Apple. "We should be the ones in the background doing the magic, not taking any credit for how incredibly intricate the technology in the background works."
This is not to say that brands don't matter-because they do. People will gravitate toward trusted brands that deliver consistent results in a high-quality manner. Rather, the crux of the argument here is that people don't have "app" problems; they just have problems. Dozens of music companies have been created in recent years that solve problems that, for the most part, most people aren't aware of or aren't much concerned about. But if apps are linked to Siri -- eliminating many of the steps between problem and solution -- the gap between the problems and solutions will narrow dramatically.
So how many music-related problems does a casual fan actually have? If you think about it, there are actually several: They want to identify and buy songs, look up lyrics, find out what concerts are happening nearby and when, listen to and discover music passively (think: Pandora), request videos and songs on-demand actively (think: Vevo and Spotify), and share songs with friends. Offering an iPhone user instant solutions to these common problems-without them having to necessary understand how they're being solved-shifts the paradigm of music listening and discovery entirely.
Shazam and Pandora aren't just apps; they're features. To use them, a person should only need to know that they want to identify a song or listen to a custom radio station and-like magic-the desired process should occur. Siri can be the genie who makes it happen.
This is the Steve Jobs dream: Technology should work like magic-and consumers should be dazzled by the show, unconcerned how the trick-at-hand is being performed. Speaking of the iPhone and its multi-touch screen display, Jobs emphasized that the feature worked, never alluding to the complex technology that makes the feature work. He simply said, "It works like magic."