Is Siri really all that it claims to be and are people using it?


So it has been a good 5 months since I got my wife her iPhone 4S. Just as I moved out of iOS into Android with a Samsung GS2 Skyrocket, I picked up the latest and greatest iPhone 4S for my wife. My motivation was three fold:
1. Give her a good camera that would allow her to capture photos and videos of our son. The iPhone 4S promised the best smartphone camera available in the market.
2. Provide a simple and intuitive smart phone experience that didn’t involve much tinkering with the phone. In addition, something that would offer the main ingredients from a any decent smartphone- maps(gps), email and social networking.
3. The third one was the wild card- Siri. My wife used post-it notes as a means to remember appointments, keep notes, maintain grocery lists and pretty much everything. I wanted her to utilize the smartphone and not just that but also use Siri as a means to automate and simplify those activities.

The iPhone 4S arrived after a two week wait. My wife was thrilled. For once, she had the most loved, most purchased and most in demand phone in her hands. She put it to work immediately.

She started asking Siri all the gimmicky questions. She loved the gimmicky answers. I watched and then participated in the “ask Siri crazy questions” fun fair. It was amusing. But soon the amusement started turning into frustration. Siri was having difficulty deciphering my wife and my questions. My wife and I are from India and have a pronounced Indian accent but I would in no form call our English undecipherable. I have been speaking English since I was 5. And Google Voice search has had no such issues with my pronunciation. Siri was supposed to be the cooler and awesome version of Google voice commands. Why was it sucking so much?

I figured it needed to learn more about how we use words. So my wife and I asked Siri questions every few days. We spent time helping it figure out what we were trying to ask. I assumed like every other voice driven mechanism, there was a good bit of learning required. Nope. 5 months later, Siri is still confused with almost all our questions. She just doesn’t get it.

I assumed Apple tested Siri with Indian voices just as it probably tested it with voices from other Asian countries. For a company that is earning more and more from its international sales, and having developed it in Silicon Valley, a diaspora of international cultures like none other, it would be fairly obvious to test with voices of all nationalities and pronunciations. My wife and I have tried speaking slow and fast. With an accent and without one. Easy words, simple words. No luck. Siri gets it 20% of the time. No more.

And then I got to thinking- are people still using Siri as much now that the initial euphoria and curiosity has subsided?. I never saw why people would talk to a phone. Maybe the occasional appointment or a to-do task. Not much beyond that. I can definitely type faster on my phone than the time it takes for Siri to get it right after multiple attempts. Even if Siri figured out my question in the first attempt, I would be done typing my request. So is there a big use case for Siri and the like?.

Apple is known to put the user experience front and center. They have single handedly become the largest company in the world by making simplicity and polish as its cornerstone. Why then would they release something that was in their own words, “beta”?. We are used to seeing betas for Google’s offerings. Never for an Apple offering. After 5 months, why is Siri still in beta?. I have no qualms in the feature being a beta if it is not advertised front and center as one of the, if not “the” most important features of Apple’s new iPhone.

It would be better and truer to the consumer if Siri was left to be what it is- a feature very much in beta but with a lot of potential. I see Siri changing the smartphone experience landscape dramatically. Google is rumored to be working on its own version titled Google Assistant. The real effect of it will be felt over the coming years when all smartphone OS’s carry their own version of Siri. Like with the Newton, Apple’s Siri is well ahead of its time. But why then am I bombarded with ads that want me to think otherwise?. Given the experience I have had with it, I see it as a major disappointment. Not really a nifty feature and not yet fully baked to Apple perfection. To me, an Apple fanboy it lowers the iPhone and Apple’s lofty standards of building the best product with no compromises. None whatsoever.


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