Siri, Are You Selling More iPhones?

Feature Helps Apple Break Sales Records Without Radical New Hardware

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That Apple has a hit phone isn't a surprise. That the new iPhone has broken sales records without radical changes to hardware, however, is .


Initial reaction to the iPhone 4S was one of crushing disappointment. It wasn't an iPhone 5, as tech publications had led us to expect. It was mere upgrade to its current handset, albeit one that did everything incrementally better and faster.

However, one thing especially softened the blow: a voice-activated personal assistant software with a cute name: Siri. Since the phones have shipped, Siri has proven to be the iPhone-loving masses most-talked about feature.

Which begs the question: how much credit should the iPhone's new and very vocal Siri take in driving sales? We asked Siri this, but she punted on the question, answering: "'Let me think about that . I cannot answer but I can search the web for it if you like."

But its becoming clear that this is a phone launched on the back of a single, somewhat magical feature. "For the last 24 hours Siri has been my best friend and I've tried to show I'm cool by sharing her with everyone I meet," said Richard Bates, CEO for WPP's The Brand Union via email. "But most of all Siri helps make up for my initial big disappointment when no iPhone 5 materialized."

Siri will figure prominently in upcoming ads for the new phone, given that exclusive features like Facetime and apps have been the focus of Apple's iPhone ads in the past. The demo video for Facetime is the most-watched Apple video of all time, according to Visible Measures.

The female-voiced assistant, who has amazed or frustrated users depending on their accent, can tell you the weather, remind you to call your spouse or set your alarm clock. It's also only available on the new iPhone 4S, and her hilarious misunderstandings and evasive responses to non-task oriented requests have also spawned social media chatter and shrines such as Tumblr blog Shit Siri Says.

Searches for "Siri" have been driving traffic to Apple's iPhone site, where consumers can both research and order phones. Last week, queries for "Siri" across search engines accounted for 6.21% of traffic to, according to Experian Hitwise. It was the No. 17 term driving traffic to the site last week, after such terms as "iPhone 4S," "Apple" and "iTunes."

The week prior, after Apple introduced Siri and the new iPhone, "Siri" drove even more traffic -= 8.14% -- to the iPhone section of Apple's website.

Just three days after launch, Apple has sold more than 4 million of the new iPhone 4S, the most ever for a phone and more than double the iPhone 4 launch in the same period, the company said Monday. That's after breaking pre-order records with 1 million phones during the first 24 hours.

There is , some say, a little bit of Apple marketing magic at work here, too.

"A feature like [Siri] simply has to be branded, and it inherently has a personality because it's a little person in your phone," said Paul Pierson, partner and creative director at Carbone Smolan Agency. Apple can't take all the credit; Siri gets her name from the voice-command software company Siri Inc. Apple acquired last spring. Before the 4S, Siri was available as an app for download.

"Giving voice recognition technology, which has been around for some time, a friendly name and a personality, and handled intelligently through the eyes of Apple has added value to the release of the 4S and to the Apple brand," Mr. Bates added.

Others, however, have debated how strong the name is : Siri is the stock ticker symbol for XM Sirius satellite radio. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Siri also sounds an awful lot like "buttocks" in Japanese. If you first thought of celebs Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter Suri, you're not the only one.

The associations with Suri are not all bad, though. Siri translates as "crab" in Portuguese. The Urban Dictionary lists no less than seven definitions for "Siri," including the coolest girl in the world. Super talented, beautiful ... and a grand friend to everyone."

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