After a very, very long appetizer course, Apple got down to the main entrée with today’s long-expected announcement of the Siri assistant  Well over an hour into an event that trod over some well-covered ground from the Mac to the iPod Touch, the audience got its look at Siri on the new iPhone 4S.

By now you’ve heard the rumors and the reality: Apple’s acquisition of Siri a couple of years ago has worked itself into the latest iPhone as a voice-activated “humble personal assistant” which can do everything at your voice request, from pulling up the article on Wikipedia about Neil Armstrong to calculating the number of days until Christmas to telling you what time it is in Paris to reminding you to call your spouse before you leave work to text-messaging a lunch appointment request to the person you’ve defined in the message, without having to confirm the recipient before transmission.

Its natural language expertise and other semantic underpinnings, and some help from functionality like GPS, also mean that it knows to provide you with a map and route when you ask how to get home, or know that you want to see things like the NASDAQ composite when you ask how NASDAQ is doing today.

One of the features that got its moment in the sun was its integration with services such as Yelp and Wolfram Alpha. So, Siri’s semantic smarts can find you a Greek restaurant in Palo Alto and present them sorted by the crowd’s Yelp ratings when you ask it for a great dining place serving that cuisine in that area.

Tom Gruber, the co-founder and CTO of Siri before Apple’s buyout, explains in this video some of the back-end connections across services that bring to the iPhone 4S the power of subjective intelligence, not just the facts. (To review more of Siri’s background check out this link, this one, and this one.)

We also know that Siri will be available in English, German and French for now, with more language support to be added. But a few things we don’t know, or know just a little bit so far:

  • In its initial incarnation Siri had limited appeal to people stateside. You could ask it for a good Chinese restaurant in Silicon Valley and get a response, but probably wouldn’t be so lucky to find that same information for somewhere in, say, The Netherlands. A look at one of the screens Apple showed indicates there may still be some U.S.-centricity, at least for some parts of the service – the sample question of ‘How do I get home’ indicated maps and directions pertain to the states only.
  • What becomes of the original Siri app that lots of users already have downloaded to their existing iPhones. Users opening the Siri app report being greeted by this screen below, which seems to indicate that unless they purchase a new phone, they will lost Siri come Oct. 15 – one day after the iPhone 4S ships.

  • And finally, does crossing the International Date Line present any problems with a request to have Siri give you a wake-up call the next morning at a certain time – mightn’t it already be tomorrow where you are when you make the request, and yesterday by the time you get to the place where you want your request to be acted on? I’ll try not to stay up all night thinking about that on (guess it’s not so serious), but invite anyone with a better grounding in time zones and time measurements to weigh in!