Typical car travel is a two-person activity – one to steer, and another to navigate. Sure, you can make-do with just one person fumbling with a GPS devices while trying to drive. But imagine a future where Siri becomes that navigator – skillful, omniscient, helpful and entirely hands-off.
Travel is rarely about just navigating from A to B
Traveling is pretty complicated stuff, if you think about it. It’s not just plugging in the destination address, and arriving, on time, with no changes or distractions, to the venue.
- There might be a last minute changes to the venue – that you find while you’re already on the way, and have to change the route mid-drive.
- You might be early for an appointment, and would like to just go to the nearest Starbucks to hang out in the meantime.
- You’re running low on gas. Will you be able to make it to the venue with gas to spare? Should you fill up now, or can you wait till later?
- You just remembered you have to pick up milk on your way home. What’s the fastest way to do that, taking into account commute traffic conditions?
GPS devices are poor navigators
Physical GPS devices, or iPhone/Android navigation apps, are a godsend compared to the days of paper-printouts (or worse – AAA maps!). However, they are poor substitutes for a real human in the shotgun seat.
- You get a call from your friends while you’re driving to a restaurant – the venue has changed. Quick – what do you do? Fumble with your GPS while driving? Ask them for directions and ignore the GPS? Pull by the side of the road or take the next exit?
- Your GPS is showing a multi-block view, but you know a quicker route if you could only zoom in a bit. Choice – keep your eye on the road while figuring out how to zoom, or just opt for the non-optimal route?
- You missed the last navigational direction spoken by the GPS, and want to hear it again. There’s a ‘repeat’ button on most hardware devices, which is still somewhat scary to try to find, let alone phone-based GPS, where there’s probably a soft button tucked behind a menu somewhere.
Designing a navigation user experience isn’t easy, of course. This is a device that demands you don’t touch it once you’re on your way, yet it’s pretty useless if you don’t.
- Have you ever driven from A to B, without having to look at, or manipulate the GPS interface? I thought not.
- There isn’t even a good place to set the GPS display. If it’s set in the dash, you’re forcing the driver to look down, away from the traffic line-of-sight, to see what’s next. If it’s above the dash, as in an after-market GPS device, you have a bright, colorful distraction from what’s ahead.
- The touch interfaces for such devices are all terrible tradeoffs. You want to minimize the number of buttons so the touch targets are big, but that means that many important functions are hidden behind menus.
Why Siri will be the best co-pilot you’ve ever had
The obvious reason first – a voice command driven GPS reduces the number of on-device actions required – but this isn’t what would be new or novel.
No, Siri can offer much more than that. First, here are the unique capabilities Siri has that will come in handy –
- Siri is ‘stateful’. It is able to do multi-part interactions, essentially having a conversation with you in order to complete a task.
- Siri understands location very well. It can understand maps, landmarks, searches centered around a certain location – anything but turn-by-turn directions.
- Siri has context. It knows exactly where you are right now, where your next appointment is, who it’s with, and what the contact details for that person are.
With these in hand, what could you do? Let’s wear a Product Manager’s hat for a bit, and play with some user stories.
User Story 1 – navigation with context
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, let’s go to the Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco’
- Siri to Amit – ‘OK, start by going left on King St, then take ramp to 101 North’
- Amit follows directions to get on to 101 N. He’s already 20 minutes in, when the phone rings. It’s Dan!
- Dan to Amit – ‘Hey Amit, so sorry, but I can’t meet you today in SF, can you do lunch at Palo Alto, instead? Let’s say Caffe del Doge?’
- Amit to Dan – ‘Sure thing. See you then. Siri will send you a note with my ETA’
- Amit hangs up the phone. He’s not mad at Dan since Dan actually called about the change in plans.
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, let’s go to Caffe del Doge in Palo Alto instead’
- Siri to Amit – ‘OK, now going to Caffe del Doge. We should reach there in 22 minutes. Continue on 101 North. We will be there in 10 minutes, based on current traffic’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, let Dan Martell know about the change in plans’
- Siri to Amit – ‘Sending a text to Dan – I will now be reaching Caffe del Doge, Palo Alto, at 1:10pm. Confirm?’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Yes!’
User Story 2 – intelligent routing
- Amit is already en route to meet Dan.
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, when will I reach Samovar?’
- Siri to Amit – ‘Amit, you will reach Samovar in 20 minutes. It would have been 10 minutes, but 101 North is backed up ahead. Would you like me to find an alternate route?’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Yes, is there a faster way to get there?’
- Siri to Amit – ‘Amit, we can take the 6th St exit, but it’s only 3 minutes faster. Do you want me to take this route instead?’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Hmm. Siri, what route are we on?’
- Siri to Amit – ‘We are taking 101 North, to 280 North, exiting on King St. Do you want more details?’
- Amit to Siri – ‘No. Find a parking spot, next to a Starbucks nearest to our destination’
- Siri to Amit – ‘Found 3 open parking spots at the Moscone Parking Center, 0.1 miles from a Starbucks. Should we go there?’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Yes, let’s go’
User Story 3 – rerouting on the fly
- Amit is already en route to meet Dan. His car indicator tells him he only has 15 miles worth of gas left.
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, how many miles to the destination?’
- Siri to Amit – ‘Amit, we are 22 miles from the destination.’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, how far is the nearest gas station from the destination?
- Siri to Amit – ‘The nearest gas station is located 2 miles from our destination. We will pass it on your way to the destination.’
- Amit to Siri – ‘Excellent. Siri, add the gas station as a waypoint’
- Siri to Amit – ‘OK, now going to Shell Gas Station. We should reach there in 10 minutes.’
User Story 4 – multiple waypoints
- Amit to Siri – ‘Siri, let’s go home, but stop by Pete’s laundry and the Safeway near our home on the way’
- Siri to Amit – ‘OK!’
None of these scenarios are inconceivable, and are in fact entirely tractable with existing Siri technology.
Apple, and how to launch magical features
If you ever wondered why Apple hasn’t yet launched turn-by-turn navigation, this is probably why.
Yes, Apple’s contract with Google probably limited their options, but I’m sure there was a number with enough zeroes that Apple could have dangled. In fact, Apple could have bought Navteq when it was on the market, but they passed. They can also switch wholesale to Bing Maps as the map-tile-provider, but they have chosen not to.
It really isn’t about who has the tiles – it’s about the actual application, the user experience. Siri provides that last puzzle piece needed to truly revolutionize directions on the go.
And as with everything Apple, I can’t wait!