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'The TV World Is Ripe for Siri,' Says Creator Dag Kittlaus

Posted: 06/14/2012 12:00 pm

The biggest takeaway of the 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference is that Siri is the new voice of Apple.

In the coming months, Siri will make her way to iPads as well as tag-team with existing apps like OpenTable and Rotten Tomatoes to do everything from procure dinner reservations to purchase tickets for a hot new film release. Siri is the centerpiece of iOS 6, and no doubt will be a key feature of Apple's iDevices in the months and years ahead. Siri might also be the ultimate TV Guide and remote control, predicts creator Dag Kittlaus.

Kittlaus, who sold Siri to Apple in 2010 and left the company earlier this year, has no direct knowledge as to what Apple will eventually do with Siri (or if he does, is not saying anything on behalf of his former employer). When asked a few hours after the WWDC keynote where he sees Siri thriving beyond smartphones and tablets, however, Kittlaus opined that using Siri to find the television shows you want to watch is a no-brainer.

"The TV world is ripe for something like that," he told a crowd of Chicago-area business executives. Prior to founding Siri, Kittlaus grew up in Chicago and most recently worked for Motorola. "Clearly there are ways to make the process more efficient."

Kittlaus said a natural use case for Siri would be to help consumers identify and locate shows they wish to watch by speaking into their devices. He said this could be aided via a Siri-powered device or independent app that locates relevant programming based on simple verbal queries.

So rather than click through hundreds of channels to find the right program or set the DVR to find back-episodes of your favorite series, Siri in theory could locate television shows based on relatively simple voice commands like "find the Mad Men season finale", for instance.

"You can imagine an efficiency component," he said. "Has anyone here tried to find a show on TV? Imagine how much easier that would be if you could talk into your phone or a smartphone acting as your remote."

Beyond looking into the crystal ball and predicting the future of television, Kattlaus also spoke about his time with Steve Jobs, the long-term potential of the Kickstarter crowd-sourced funding project, and how he felt when Snoop Dogg first tweeted about Siri.

From fast-mover to first-mover

Kittlaus left a job at Motorola in Chicago in 2007 to move to Silicon Valley realizing, to his calculation, that Northern California was where "95 percent of the most important technology companies" were located. Seven months into his role as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Stanford Research Institute, Siri got funded and he was on his way.

In early 2010, Siri released an independent voice-enabled search app for iOS devices. Three weeks later, Steve Jobs personally called Kittlaus asking if they could get together. He noted that when Jobs first called him, not only was he not expecting to be contacted by Steve himself, but that he had trouble swiping his iPhone to turn on and receive the call. Good thing he was finally able to pick up the call.

While Kittlaus had other distribution possibilities in place for Siri and wasn't necessarily in sell-mode, the personal offer from Jobs and the opportunity to plug his company into Apple was too much to pass up.

"We just raised more funding, and it was really nice to see this was going to be big," he said. "Any startup CEO worth their salt wants to go that route. Of course we thought we could do this alone, maybe we could have. But Apple is an execution machine."

After working at Apple for about 18 months getting Siri ready for prime time in the iPhone 4S, Kittlaus moved back to Chicago where he plans to start his next venture (after a non-compete runs out). He is intrigued at how entities like Kickstarter -- which has deployed $300 million in young ventures to date -- can help entrepreneurs know really quickly whether or not their ideas have business merit.

Kittlaus is also taking some time off to be with family, catch up on popular culture, and bear witness to how the world is responding to his invention.

"The thing that finally validated my life," he said, "is when Snoop Dogg tweeted, 'Siri do you want to smoke something? That was the highlight of my life.'"

 

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