Siri Makes a Great Demo, but…

by Colin Berkshire

When Apple first came out with Siri, they cautiously branded it a “Beta” product, and for good reason. But now Siri has been out for four months and it should have become pretty great.

I have yet to run into any iPhone 4s users that actually use it. It’s a great parlor trick that looks better after a few beers. But as for using it daily, I get the same answer from everybody I talk to: The ability to dictate an email is genuinely useful. The Siri part not so much.

Let’s look at a few real-life examples so you can see that this is a “marketing product” and not a practical tool yet.

A few weeks ago I needed to get to the emergency room…fast. I debated on whether to call 911 and wait for an ambulance or to drive myself. I decided to drive. Here is how Siri was of no help:

Me: I need the address of the nearest emegency room.
Siri: I found 6 emergency rooms, five of them are fairly close to you.
Me: Would you give me the address of the closest one?
Siri: I found 6 emergency rooms, five of them are fairly close to you.

Me: OK, give me the address of General Hospital.
Siri: OK, here’s a place matching General Hospital. It looks close to you.
(No address displayed)

Me: Please give me the address.
Siri: I found a number of places. 22 are fairly close to you.
(A list of irrelivant things displayed)

Me: Display the address of General Hospital. I need the address.
Siri: OK, here is a place called General Hospital. It looks pretty close to you.
(No address displayed)

Me: What is the phone number for General Hospital?
Siri: Do you wish to call General Hospital at 1000 Central Road?
(So I ask for the phone number and it announced the address? WTF?)

Me: Please display the phone number.
Siri: Sorry, I don’t understand ‘Please display the phone number’

At this point I gave up and Googled it.

But this is hardly a unique situation. Siri simply won’t tell you or display for you phone numbers or addresses. You can see a map, and it will offer to call, but you can’t get the facts out of it. Siri also over editorializes and leads you to wrong conclusions:

Me: What is the weather in Hong Kong?
Siri: There is some bad weather coming up for Hong Kong.
(It displays an icon of a sun and shows the temperature at 75 degrees. This is bad weather?)

I tried over a hundred every-day requests and constantly was “chatted up” with apologies and bogus data.

Finally, nearly to the point of throwing Siri out the window I decided to ask it for some readily available facts.

Me: What is the poverty rate in the United States?
Siri: The poverty rate of the United States is 12%

Me: What is the poverty rate of China?
Siri: The poverty rate in China is 2.8%

Me: So the poverty rate of China is one fourth that of the United States?
Siri: Sorry, I don’t understand that question.

I Googled my question and ended up getting this page from the CIA world factbook.  And, yes, the poverty rate of china really is less than 1/4 that of the United States! Score one for Siri…almost.

I dare you to get Siri to display an address to show a phone number.

I haven’t yet gotten Siri to make an appointment on the correct day or with the correct name. You just cannot trust it to do anything accurately.

I have a simple solution for Siri that would make it great. Take what I say, send it to Google, and show the results.

Asking Siri for help is about as reliable as asking a 6-year old girl for help. And, sometimes the conversation is less condescending.

So try it for yourself. Ask for the address of the emergency room at your local hospital. Am I being unfair?

No wonder our poverty rate is so high.