Siri 1.0

The other day, Marco Arment linked to this post by Boris at The Next Web about Siri’s usefulness.

Boris writes:

It seems to me that Siri is slowly entering this area of ‘nice to show but not actually useful’. I know a quite few people with an iPhone 4s and I asked around a bit and they all almost regretfully acknowledge that they, in fact, don’t really use it anymore, once you get beyond the newness of it all.

The commercials look great and in the beginning you can still find the patience to play and experiment with it. But then reality kicks in and you find out that Siri is just too slow and although it’s probably the best voice recognition on any mobile platform, it still isn’t good enough to always understand what you mean.

Marco responds to this by saying Siri right now has two problems: 1) managing users’ expectations; and 2) reliability. As to the former, Arment rightfully points that that while Siri works very effectively given Apple’s current parameters, it (he? she?) will obviously never be nuanced enough to truly discern language the way a real human being can. As for the latter, Arment notes that, anecdotally speaking, his experiences with Siri being at the ready seems to be getting worse. Says Arment: “Siri’s service reliability seems to be getting worse over time — not misinterpreting what was said, but responding with an error indicating that the service can’t handle commands right now…”. Statements like the one from Boris and this one from Arment paint a pretty bleak picture for Siri, but it would be prudent to keep in mind two things:

  1. Siri is still in beta; and
  2. Siri is still in beta.

In other words, Siri is sitll very much a 1.0 product. (Apple even admits this by using the sparingly-used ‘beta’ tag during the launch event demo and on their website.) Siri is still an infant; you don’t kill it because it’s not walking and talking after almost four months. Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall were very clear during the Siri demo that improvements would come over time, and they will.1

On the other hand, however, I will acknowledge the “disappointment” over what’s, for all intents and purposes, a half-baked feature. That’s not usually how Apple rolls2, and people’s criticisms of Siri are warranted. But looking at it from Apple’s perspective, they had to push out Siri, I think. The iPhone 4S had to had some marquee feature exclusive to it that would make people (myself included) want to buy the new phone. That’s obvious. The improved camera, the A5 chip, and iOS 5 -- great features they are in their own right -- aren’t exactly marketable things. (Or, at least, not the kinds of things Apple likes to promote.) Given this logic, it’s understandable to see how hard they’re pushing Siri, despite knowing full well its limitations.

I will admit to being one of those 4S users who see Siri as more of a novelty, let-me-show-this-off kind of feature. As I alluded to before, I bought the 4S because of Siri.3 In real world use, though, I don’t use it/he/her very much, if at all. Perhaps that’s because my workflow doesn’t require or encourage me to use it, but the point is, I find myself calling on her by accident while trying to do something else. Not because I want to. Even so, I think Siri’s still a pretty damn good 1.0, and I’m anxious to see what improvements Apple makes in the (presumably near) future. (Like open up the API to developers.)

  1. At least based on the reports on the iOS 5.1 betas.

  2. It took them until iOS 3 to add cut, copy, and paste beause the UI mandated perfection.

  3. And because AT&T said I qualified for upgrade pricing.