iPhone 4S vs. The Keyboard & Mouse

Oct 20, 2011

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We are the content creators. The digital warriors who wrangle the fire-breathing dragons of text, photos, and videos. We have honed our weapons into skilled machines that can upload a news release onto the web in the blink of an eye. Our workflow can edit, upload, and embed while we casually sip on our lattes. We have reached the pinnacle of taking an idea from the strongholds of our minds and disseminating it to the masses, all with the click of our mouse. Or have we? In the battle for speed of delivery there may be a new contender on the horizon. In this edition of Content Throwdown! we will put the iPhone 4S Siri Assistant up against the bastion of electronic content input devices: the keyboard and mouse!

At first glance this matchup looks like a no contest winner for the archaic devices that sit on all of our desks. Surely a our voices can't compare with 10 fingers on 2 hands. But let's take a closer look at the tale of the tape.

To find the origins of the keyboard we know today we must visit the first practical typewriter, which was invented by Christopher Sholes in the mid 1800's. The keyboard layout was in alphabetical order and overused letters and phrases caused the machine to jam. So in 1873 Sholes and his team scrambled the letters to create the QWERTY keyboard which is still the standard today. How many other pieces of 150 year old technology do you still use on a daily basis?

With the rise of computing in the 60's keyboards became the primary method for data input but with the birth of the GUI (graphical user interface) the need for an alternate method of interaction became apparent. In 1968 Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute created the first prototype device for x and y movement. Noting it's tail like cable he dubbed it the "mouse." We also have Xerox PARC to thank for finalizing the details of the mouse and ultimately standardizing the "both hands on a keyboard and grab the mouse when required" move. As common as it is, I could not find the first instance of the well known "spilling a soda onto their keyboard while on a deadline" move.

For almost 40 years now we have had our primary methods of content creation and as strong a legacy as that is, I doubt we will see it last another 10 years. While there are other types of input out there, like touchscreens and trackpads, these are basically the same movements on different surfaces. The true contender to beat the keys and clicks will be our voices. And for the first time in the history of personal computing technology, I think we have something that will actually work in the real world.

Voice recognition technology is nothing new. Companies like BBN Technologies have been building voice to text, automation tools since before the cold war. And while BBN may be known for their work on ARPANET ( a forerunner to the internet) and the first use of the "@" symbol in emails, some of their voice recognition work is still in use today by RAMP.com. There have been products also directed at consumers, like Dragon, which launched in 1982 and has since morphed into Nuance Communications. The issue with most of these tools is not just the time it takes to "teach" the system to recognize your voice but also the lack of integration into other products and software. Why can't a piece of software in 2011 automatically know what I am saying and perform an appropriate action?

Apple is confident that they have finally cracked the code for an inexpensive, easy to use and results focused voice recognition assistant. Say hello to Siri, your wish is its command. At least according to the marketing literature, this software is your own genie out of the bottle. And while long term consumer testing will show the results, the previews so far have been very impressive. One of the most interesting features related to this specific throwdown is the integration with Pages, the Apple word processing software. Buried in the feature list of the iOS 5 update was a Pages App update with full integration with Siri. This can only lead me to believe that my next installment of Content Throwdown! will be spoken to Siri on my iPhone 4S. I will then tell Siri to email it to my editor, set a tee time at the nearest set of links and update my Facebook status with something witty. Yes, I can do all those things with a mouse and keyboard. But there is a unique power that comes from speaking a word and seeing things happen.

So who wins the Siri vs. Mouse & Keyboard throwdown? The battle tested veteran in one corner or the fresh faced challenger in the opposite corner? Tradition vs. Cutting Edge. Old vs. New.

Drumroll.... And the winner is... Mouse and Keyboard!

Yes, the old codgers still have some life in them. But, I would like to revisit this in six months and see if Siri has become as popular as I believe it will. If the technology is half as good as the Apple spin then I would imagine a much different outcome in the next throwdown. So to you content warriors out there, keep swinging your mice and mashing your keys. But soon enough you will be slaying those dragons with your voice.