I Wish Siri Was Actually Good

“Sequences shortened.”

It’s a short phrase that, on the surface at least, seems pretty innoucous. Obviously you have to cut down your ad slot to fit the allotted time; nobody minds not seeing how long it takes to actually connect a phone call or wants to see Mail downloading new messages – we know it’ll take a few seconds, nobody’s calling foul on that.

The problem arises when the phrase “Sequences shortened” starts to feel like trickery, an understatement intended to make something that’s a work in progress look like a finished product; akin to advertising a beautifully produced and engineered song, and then selling people a pretty sketchy demo.

Here lies Apple’s dilemma, they desperately want to portray Siri as effortless, seamless, and emminently helpful, but it’s just not.


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I will refrain from using he/she to refer to Siri, it’s confusing for my brain – especially because if you live in the UK Siri’s a man, but in the US Siri’s a woman, Apple really should have thought that through when trying to give their personal assistant a personality.

It’s hard to know how long Apple has been working on Siri, but we can safely assume it’s been no more than a few years. It’s an almost an entirely new arena for the company and one that requires them to handle and process vast, and I mean vast, quantities of data. I have no doubt that, over time, Siri will improve to the point where we can’t imagine the iPhone and iPad without it, but right now it’s a work in progress and doesn’t deserve the continued benefit of the doubt.

The announcement of iOS 6 brings Siri to the iPad, along with some good improvements, and I desperately want it to be the turning point for Siri. However, going on my declining use of Siri on the 4S, this incremental step forward won’t be a significant landmark – I think it’ll be at least two years until Siri is truly amazing. While we wait for that day to come it’s worth being honest about what Siri is right now, and how it could be improved in the short term.

A little awkward...

Reliability

Apple made the decision to do all of Siri’s processing in the cloud (a huge whopping data centre in North Carolina), and I’m assuming this was the only practical option – I’d have loved to see some local speech processing, so Siri doesn’t go completely AWOL every time you lose service! Given that, Apple should have put even more of its cash surplus to good use ensuring that Siri would have as near to 100% uptime as possible.

In a conscious effort to foil me, Siri worked perfectly!

Going to Siri and getting no response (after a good few seconds) is one of the biggest issues for the service, getting rebuffed a few times will quickly foster a casual lack of interest in using it.

As every web service knows, uptime is absolutely crucial. I love that Apple is rolling out Siri on more devices, but it needs to sort this out or it risks continually alienating people. One thing I’ve learned from talking to friends of mine who’ve used Siri is that once they’ve been rejected a few times, they just forget about it and move on.

I guess I do press your buttons...

Scope

Living in the UK I was massively disappointed to discover that some of Siri’s most useful features aren’t available here – looking up businesses and using maps for example! I’ve got my fingers crossed that this is to change in iOS 6, but there’s no official word on that…

I'm hungry, dammit!

Even besides that it frustrates me how clumsy Siri can be performing the simplest tasks, something that immediately begins to sap away at the magic. – why can’t Siri read things to me? I appreciate the difficulty in making a natural language engine that works for huge numbers of people, but it doesn’t stop me being annoyed that Siri isn’t, well, cleverer.

The biggest request I’d put forward is third-party access to Siri. A Siri API would be something truly awesome to behold – it’ll be amazing to see what the incredible community of iOS developers can come up with. It’s got to be on the horizon, but Siri won’t feel complete without it.

Grow Up, Already!

I like Siri, but can’t wait for it to grow up and mature. Time will definitely help, Apple will improve it, connections will get faster, social norms will be boldly broken. Right now, though, Siri’s a toddler, albeit one that gives an unusual answer to the question “What is pie?”

You can tell Siri's a computer, this is what first comes to mind for pie.


  • Ian C.

    I’m sure I read that Apple said business support for other countries was part of the next release … can’t be bothered to search for confirmation though 😉

  • Leonick

    Honestly, that isnt a weird answer to “What is pie?” I’d give you the same answer (well I’d likely stop and 3.14 :p), pi and pie both sound the same. Now if you asked “What is a pie?” my answer would be different and I’m guessing Siri’s would too.
    I agree on the reset of the article though even though I don’t actually have it yet, but I’ve still seen it in action and know it could use being quicker and I’ve used Google Location search and I doubt Siri have a lot of or all correct location data around here (Sweden) either.

  • Linhy

    We have this commercial in Australia with users using Siri for different purposes, making it look quick and effortless, but I actually find Siri pretty redundant, pointless and not even half as accurate as they say. For example, in the ad, a guy is asking what’s the weather like today in Melbourne. Check your weather app! And then someone asks, what’s the meaning of futurism? Use your Safari app! And finally, the dumbest one of all, a guy’s waiting for his brother at the football field and asks Siri where he is, and Siri shows him a map. JUST CALL HIM ALREADY. Jesus effing Christ.

  • Andrew

    I think Siri is actually pretty cool. I mean I understand that people who use their iPhone and now iPad for mostly business purposes dont find much use in it, but Siri has some serious potential for business and fun. I also think that everyone who finds Siri pointless should remember that Siri was originally released in a beta and will only improve. But even for me right now, I find it incredibly useful and an outstanding feature of iOS devices.

  • Mark Simpson

    Good article and refreshingly honest-through-the-hype.

    Forget Siri, though. I want Selma, from TimeTrax:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Trax

    “Selma was a computer, but a computer that seemed like a real person to Darien most of the time.”

    Yeah, baby..!

  • Stuart

    I find Siri is great for when you’re driving – when it works! If you have (enough) service, she usually gets it totally wrong. In fact, the voice control on the 3GS was more accurate, and worked without 3G…