Is Siri Really That Bad?

Apple's Siri I read a very interesting article yesterday that I wanted to respond to. In Siri is Apple’s Broken Promise by Mat Honan, the author argues that Apple mislead him and many other consumers about Siri’s capabilities. He is deeply disappointed by the service, and suggests blatant false advertising on Apple’s part. He claims that Siri is not the “intelligent” personal assistant that Apple makes her out to be, and that she fails to understand meaning, the main point of differentiation between Siri and other voice recognition software.

What I’m wondering is, why is he so hard on “her”? (Apple calls Siri an “it” – how rude!). Here are my thoughts on both the author’s concerns and my own experience with Siri after about a week of use.

   1. The author’s underlying argument is essentially true. Siri is not *quite* as amazing as Apple makes her out to be. She does not always understand things correctly and her abilities are limited. I agree with Mat in his wish that she could do things like turn wifi on or off and do other app specific things. It would be great if she could do things like download  from the App store and actually navigate you to a destination instead of just giving you general directions.

   2. BUT, everyone has limits, and Siri is no different. Instead of focusing on what Siri can’t do, I’ve been amazed with what she can do. And honestly, everyone has limits, including humans, who might not understand the exact meaning of something you tell them (for albeit different reasons than Siri). You learn Siri’s limits just like you do with humans. You don’t get mad if you ask someone to deliver a pizza to the moon and they respond with “I don’t understand”. They’re exactly right not to, because your request was nonsense and/or outside of their capabilities. If you want to argue that Siri’s capabilities need to be expanded, that’s one thing, but she tells you quite clearly what she can and can’t do. What more could you ask from someone?

   3. Siri’s main advantage is speed. If I had to pick one reason why I love Siri and think that she truly makes me more productive and makes my iPhone more powerful, it would be speed. Siri simply does things more quickly than I could. Let’s say I want to send a text message, something many of us do quite frequently. The old way would be: 1. pressing the unlock button; 2. opening messages app; 3. finding the conversation thread of the person I wanted to text or hitting compose new and entering their name manually; 4. Typing the message; 5. Pressing send. Siri does it in 2 short steps: holding down the home button (even if phone is locked/in sleep mode) and when she comes up, saying “tell Mom I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me”. She confirms that the message is correct, I say yes, and it’s sent. Everything is like that. Are there blips? Yes. Am I still amazed? Yes.

   4. Siri truly is a step forward in practical, consumer level voice recognition and AI interaction. I admit I’ve been watching some Star Trek Next Generation pretty consistently over the last few months, and I love the way the crew interacts with the ship’s computer. They ask it a direct question and it gives a direct answer. Kinda like Siri, only more advanced and more powerful. Well, we’ve got a few years to get there, but in the meantime, I can truly say that Siri is a real step forward in human and computer interaction. She makes me more productive and organized, honestly. What more can you want or expect?

What are your thoughts? Do you think Apple lied about Siri, or do people have unrealistic expectations?