SIRIously This Sucks

by Colin Berkshire

Guest Post by Colin Berkshire:

I’d like to have a word with the folks behind Siri, it’s a big iPhone disappointment. Apple is the master of crafting expectations and then meeting or exceeding them. This is a key part of their success formula. But Siri is a shocking departure: did anybody in the real world even test it?

  • Ask anything outside of the US and it just responds that it cannot do that. Ask for a map of Tokyo, or the temperature in Bangkok, or what the population of Hong Kong is and it just explains that it cannot provide information for that country.
  • “Remind me when I drive by Walgreens in Federal Way, Washington.” you might say. Siri should be able to look up the address and set up a reminder. But, no, you must first add Walgreens to your contacts list and only then can you ask to be reminded. How useful is that?
  • “Please display the phone number for the Browns Point Pizzeria”. Won’t do that. It will offer to call, but it won’t display the number. So you can’t see if it looks right, or is even in your area code.
  • “How many miles from Austin to Seattle” yields the error message that Siri can only calculate miles from your current location.
  • “What is the population of Hong Kong” will inform you that Siri cannot answer any questions that relate to anything outside the United States, just as a request to see a map of Tokyo will chastise you for even asking. (Why it cannot display a map of Tokyo is mystifying, since the Maps program has maps of Tokyo just like almost every other place on earth.)

If you ask one of the 100 or so questions that the developers thought of, you will get good recognition and a decent response. Asking to call somebody in your contacts list, or to dial a phone number works about 75% of the time (the other 25% of the time Siri complains that the servers are busy or that it cannot obtain a “connection.”) But if you stray much off the beaten path it is like playing twenty questions with a belligerent two year old.

It appears that the Siri servers are overloaded, that they are often down entirely, and that too many people are asking too many of the wrong types of answers.

“Sorry, I am not able to connect right now” says Siri. Indeed, Siri could not be more spot-on.


Is Siri a complete disaster?

Actually not. The voice recognition works superbly if you speak in a mainstream American accent. It is a great way to dictate an email or even a letter. Speak clearly, without an accent, and Siri allows you to speak right into the body of an email or any other document. This is a tremendous feature!

What a shame that Apple didn’t stop at the speech-to-text. Had they set those expectations, it would have been a home-run. Instead, the uselessness of the Siri “artificial intelligence” overshadows otherwise great voice recognition.

I expect more from Steve Jobs, but then again it wasn’t released on his shift.

—– Update 1

One of the features it has gotten very little press about the new Apple iPhone 4S is the ability to dictate text.

I have been using this this feature for a while and I have to say that it is outstanding. You just talk to your telephone and it converts it into text. No more pecking at letters on the keyboard to type an email. It is very time efficient, and it seems to work outstandingly.

If you have seen text dictation in the past on computers don’t use that to bias your opinion. This actually works. You talk, it types. And it gets it right the first time.

This entire update has been dictated by me. I have not typed a single word.

As one who 20 years ago did a lot of dictation and thought that it was an extremely efficient way to write letters and prepare manuals this is a breakthrough. It is certainly worth the entire price of the Apple iPhone 4S.

I want this feature now on my Apple iMac.