Opinion: Siri a Fun Novelty But Not as Useful as Apple Advertises

Apple made a big splash at its iPhone 4S keynote with the introduction of Siri, the voice assistant Apple integrated into the iOS from its acquiring of Siri 18 months earlier. I remember when the Siri app first arrived and I dwell upon how little it worked for me when it was 1.0. Now that Apple was able to throw money, in both purchase and development, at Siri and has taken its time with presenting the updated version, I was excited to see what 2.0 would be like. Well, first we were told it was a beta, not a revised version. Second, it no longer would run on anything but an iPhone 4S due to the need for a hefty processor (which has since been proven wrong with the many hacks floating around the Internet.) But that commercial shown at Moscone Center definitely made it look like it was going to be the sweet deal nevertheless.

Now, I wasn’t expecting perfection from Siri when my white 32GB iPhone 4S arrived at my door step via UPS upon the day of release. No, I had used Android’s voice-to-text without much success and, again, the original Siri app wasn’t all that impressive. In short, my expectations were honestly low.

After removing the phone from its packaging and activating it on the third attempt – third time’s the charm, AT&T – I of course asked Siri if I would need an umbrella tomorrow even though it was sunny and in the 80s outside. Siri responded with the weather for the next week. My family and I then went on to ask it more of the silly questions such as what is the meaning of life and what do yo look like.

When it came time time to really test it, this is where the shine began to fade. I attempted to text my wife a short message to which it understood who my wife was but didn’t even have any of the text for the message. I tried again and then it got it. Well, most of it. The end of the message was just chopped off as if I hadn’t even said it and the last two words were incorrect. I chalked it up to a busy day for Siri as this was her/his debut.

Over the next few weeks, I used Siri in the truck, in my home, in stores, in offices. I used it in many different environments and pretty much received consistent results. Poor ones. My truck gave me the worse and I attribute that to the cabin noise since I have a large Ford F-250. My wife’s Yukon isn’t much better with its Flowise pipes so results were about the same there as well. In a quiet environment, such as my bedroom, the accuracy was improved but not by much. To gain near perfect accuracy, I found I had to be holding the phone near to my mouth, about a foot or two, angled with the mic toward me, and not to use conjunctions such as you’ll. When using this method, I obtained near 90% accuracy. But the problem with this is that it’s more like a lab than real life.

Let me be clear, I did not just use the iPhone 4Ses built-in microphone or supplied wired headset. I also employed the use of third-party hands-free sets such as my Alpine IVA-W505 (my review), SuperTooth buddy (here’s that review), and the Magellan Premium Car Kit (yup, reviewed that, too.) I live in California where it has some of the most stringent laws against distracted driving so I engage technology to help me be safe and avoid unneeded fines. In reality, one would presume this is the point of Siri as we watch the jogger run along the bay with Treasure Island in the background. Siri is our assistant when our hands and eyes are busy doing other things.

What it comes down to is the best place to use Siri is not the best place to use Siri. The most common place to use Siri, chatter filled offices or noisy homes, gives you the most common errors. I also found myself flustered many times when speaking to Siri and correcting myself mid-sentence and boy did that make things even worse. From what I gather speaking to my other Siri using friends, I’m not the only one that suffers from the same tongue-tie issue. Part of it is that our brain thinks we need to sound like a robot when speaking to Siri but the other part is Siri needs to recognize human short comings and prevail as well.

I have also noted the lack of punctuation. If I speak more than a single sentence, even with proper pause, Siri doesn’t get the period. It either ends taking my dictation or makes a run-on sentence. I have discovered that I can state the needed mark, such as period or question mark, but it doesn’t always get it. If I give Siri too much, either via the Siri interface or the Mic icon on the keyboard, it will simply double beep and translate what I have said up to that point. Sometimes, it comes up completely blank! This leads me to wonder about the articles I’ve read on ZDNet and the Sun Times by Andy Ihnatko that claim they dictated the entire article to Siri. I would sure love to see a video of that because I really do not think it’s possible without much interaction with the Home or Mic button. Maybe I’m missing something but Apple is well known for it’s ease of use and Steve Jobs was found of saying, “It just works”.

What it comes down to is that Apple has advertised something that really isn’t. Sure, these keyword tips help your accuracy but note how short the sentences are.

Going back to that jogger and the way he made a meeting so natural and so easy, this is what Average Joe and Mom Consumer will see. They don’t watch keynotes. So how much higher will their expectations be than mine? Apple has done well with its products in the last decade from the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad, and I’m certain Siri is what will set the next decade for Apple, but beta or not, Siri needs to get it and get it quick.



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