Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Siri Backlash Is Here

from TheAlanticWire.com
The feature that wowed tech bloggers upon the iPhone 4S's debut, is no longer getting much praise. When the latest iPhone was announced, The Wirecutter's Brian Lam called Siri, "game changing"; New York Times Bits Blog's Sam Grobart found it "amazing;" and his Times colleague David Pogue lauded it as "crazy good, transformative, [and] category-redefining." Less than two months later, the bud is off the rose for Apple's "personal assistant" app. Welcome to the Siri backlash.
Last week's abortion "glitch" was the latest in a series of embarrassments for Apple's bot. Apple apologized(-ish) for the issue, but the half-hearted statement and unchanged software has yet to quell the anger. The criticisms still continue via petitions , including one at SignOn.org that got over 30,000 signatures in 48 hours, petition author Nita Chaudhary told CBS News. Unfortunately, the abortion-query problem is just a micro representation of a macro problem: Siri just doesn't work that well. Gizmodo's Mat Honan puts it well:
Siri is very much a half-baked product. Siri is officially in beta. Go to Siri's homepage on Apple.com, and you'll even notice a little beta tag by the name.
I'm sorry. Beta? Beta is for Google. When Apple does a public beta, it usually keeps it out of the hands of the, you know, public. It typically makes you go get betas. It doesn't force them on you, much less advertise them. Not that it is an effective disclaimer for the vast buying public. For most people who see Apple's ads, and buy iPhones, the word beta means nothing at all. It might be a fish, or a college bro.
That speech recognition is the most obvious example of that beta. Siri's most common reply to me is that "it didn't quite get that." Is this due to my (very slight!) southern accent? Is it because I mumble? I don't know, but I do know that my Nexus rarely failed to understand me in the ways Siri does.
Honan's frustrations aren't unique. The Apple Forums are full of people claiming that Siri doesn't understand accents or Siri just not working. And don't forget the mass outage in early November. Siri fails a lot— and not just when it comes to heated topics like abortion.
But even if Siri does work to her fullest potential, the bot hasn't been fully embraced by everyone. Talking to a phone is kind of ridiculous and at the very least disruptive, The New York Times's Nick Wingfield pointed out over the weekend:
“How is he doing question mark how are you doing question mark,” Jeremy Littau of Bethlehem, Pa., found himself telling his new iPhone recently as he walked down the street, dictating a text message to his wife, who was home with their newborn. The machine spoke to him in Siri’s synthesized female voice.
Passers-by gawked. “It’s not normal human behavior to have people having a conversation with a phone on the street,” concluded Mr. Littau, 36, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University.
Siri dictations make one look like a crazy person, Wingfield suggested. The commenters agreed. "On the morning of Thanksgiving, I saw a lone Williamsburg hipster on a deserted street telling his phone, with increasing insistence and volume, 'I'm hungry,'" wrote commenter Jason K., for example. 
Given that Apple is pushing Siri so hard -- the iPhone 4S commercials focus on the magic of Siri -- it's not good news that its prize, and apparent future of TV, no longer looks too shiny. Apparently Apple's sales success had a lot to do with the bot. Then again, maybe it doesn't matter: Millions of iPhones have already been purchased. And like Apple said they will "find places where we can do better."


  1. Great article. Thank you! Also lmao @ Brian Lam, Sam Grobart and David Pogue - people should know their heroes ;)

  2. Yeah, Siri is terrible. My friend was trying to show it off to me and had to repeat himself 10 times. My Android picked it up in 1 shot.

  3. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor above)December 7, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    Despite the doubtful anecdote posted by my name-stealing nemesis (If he lies about his identity, can anything he writes be trusted?), the iPhone was voted #1 in reliability and user satisfaction by a poll of 63,000 readers of PCWorld-- not MacWorld, who I'm sure haters would dismiss en mass as iSheep.


  4. Actually dude, we really don't know that you are who you say you are. I'm sure you will say its your real name till the cows come home. That doesn't mean its true. You type in Brett but that's it. I call bs on you.

  5. Yeah, Brett(TM) I think you shouldn't talk because your name is just what you typed in. Clearly the other guy/girl is showing off that fact. You always seem to try to deflect and claim someone is lying or that the problem is smaller than everyone says. Grow a pair and admit or agree that there is a problem.

  6. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 7, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    I've said all along that Apple isn't perfect. But I continue to maintain that Apple's problems trumpeted so gleefully by Dave on this blog are, in fact, relatively insignificant in the scheme of things. They are either minor, uncommon, easily or soon remedied).

    The wishful thinking of haters is that one or more of these issues will halt Apple's continued success, but there is no sign of that happening.

    I started posting using the name Brett soon after this blog appeared. (whether that is my real name is not the issue). After I had commented on several blog postings, someone else started posting also using the name Brett. When called out by another poster, he claimed that his real name was also Brett. Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, I found it odd that apparently he didn't mind having his hater posts confused with my not so hateful ones. However, I did mind, so I added the trademark symbol to differentiate my subsequent posts from his. More recently, someone (and I suspect it is likely be the same person) has started posting using the trademarked version of my name making it unambiguous that the intent to confuse is deliberate. It's silly and immature, but not surprising behavior for a hater.

  7. You have to admit, it was clever for Apple to release it and call it a "Beta" product. This way when it fails as it has they can just say it's not the final product.

  8. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 10, 2011 at 3:37 AM

    Clever? Or perhaps they were just being honest, It IS Beta quality. Nevertheless, many people find it useful for certain tasks even in its present form. And the best way to fine tune a product like Siri is with plenty of actual user input —which they will now get.

    Hater-spin is an amazing thing to behold.

  9. I personally don't care about Apple's continued success, if they prosper of fail. They just need to work on their marketing, since only about 00.5% of their users know that Siri is a Beta Product, meaning it can be discontinued at any time Apple feels like pulling it. If they want to Beta test, pay for it like everyone else.

    Apple is evolving into a more corporate beast like Microsoft every day. They're learning that the bigger you get, the more problems your going to have with issues like this. It happens when companies grow too fast and try to work on too many projects at once and try to bring them together at the same time.

    While Apple is definitely not going anywhere and will continue to grow, be prepared to see more and more issues like this happening.Along with more and more Apple diehards pretending that their core computing beliefs are still intact, while the actual professionals who have been using their products for years are being edged out by the consumerazation of the company (Final Cut X anyone?)

  10. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 12, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    Your suggestion that Siri might be suddenly pulled is a laughable attempt to plant FUD. Although Siri certainly has room for improvement (especially outside the US where some services are not available), it is already quite useful in its present form. If Siri doesn't work well enough for some people or circumstances, no one is being forced to use it. It WILL get better. I suspect that most would rather have Siri in its present form than not at all.

    Regarding Final Cut X, Apple has announced plans to restore many of the most requested missing features. But, I agree that Apple shot themselves in the foot when it discontinued availability of Final Cut Pro.

    Apple originally introduced the Macintosh as "the computer for the rest of us.". At the time, personal computers (still command line based) were unapproachable by most people. They were relegated to hobbyists, technical professionals, or businesses with in-house technical support. The Mac heralded a new era.

    Over the years, Macintosh computers have been adopted by creative professionals, leading to the marginalization of the Mac as "niche" devices (at least within businesses). Though it seems clear that increasingly, Apple's greatest success has come from catering to its more numerous, less technical customers. This is certainly still in line with "Apple's core beliefs", which are all about bringing computing power to the masses, and enabling individual productivity without requiring a high degree of technical expertise.

  11. The whole "computers for the rest of us" thing is amusing. Even though they tried to be easy to use for the masses, people still choose Windows based computers over Apple and now more people are buying Android phones over iPhones. Say what you will fanboys, Apple is on the decline.


  12. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 13, 2011 at 3:33 AM

    Apple is on the decline? I don't think so.

    While its competitors race to the bottom in search of market share, it is Apple that seems to rake in the most profit. I expect their next quarterly financial report (incorporating iPhone 4S sales) to be another record breaker. Let's revisit the topic next year.

  13. Apple only makes more profit because they charge more. Everyone already knows that. Try to pay attention.

  14. Android is CRUSHING iPhone.


    Android is leaving Apple in the dust. Not too long from now Apple will be the 5% just like in the PC market.

  15. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 22, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    With Apple's increases in popularity, the Apple price disparity has been steadily decreasing. One reason that some still have the perception that Apple is overpriced is that Apple steadfastly refuses to compete on the very low end. This does increase the average selling price of its products. Even when the cost is higher, Apple's customers obviously feel they are getting value for their money.

    Often times, Apple products are comparably priced with devices of similar quality and features. In fact, competitors have had a hard time matching the iPad and Macbook Air class machines at their price. iPhones are comparably priced with other premium phones, and any difference is a drop in the bucket over the 2-year life of the carrier contract.

    While haters like my impostor namesake take solace in Android's growing market share, I don't believe that comparing the iPhone (a product) with Android (an operating system) is of much use, even as a predictor of developer support. Most people buy phones, not operating systems. The lock-in dynamic that helped Microsoft Windows stay dominant on the desktop is not present in the case of mobile devices.

    Despite Android's significant market share, developers are making much more money supporting iOS. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but it may be because the majority of iPhone owners actually seem to believe that quality software is worth paying for, while Android users tend to be cheapskates that expect everything to be free. Which model do you think is sustainable in the long term?

  16. I vote that Android is the more sustainable, long-term model. It clearly has more going for it. If you want to do a quality comparison to one specific Android phone, fine. Pick the Galaxy SII or the EVO 4G, either of those are far superior to the latest iPhone. And, as you say, the prices of the premium phones are the same, intelligent people would normally pick the better device, Android. As for the iPads and Macbooks, yes it would be hard to match them. You would have to take an Android tablet or Windows notebook that matches the price of the Apple equivalent and take away some of the quality and features. That's kinda hard to do, I agree with you there. All I see when you talk Brett is empty excuses and imaginary information. Just because Apple is making developers lots of money doesn't mean they're better to work for. Just ask Bernie Madoffs former customers. He seemed awesome for a while.

  17. Brett™ (the original, not the impostor)December 28, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    The Galaxy SII and the EVO 4G are nice phones, but I disagree they they are unquestionably a better choice for everyone's needs.

    I don't see how you can equate Apple with Madoff. Apple is very upfront about its relationship with app developers, who are, by the way, making REAL money. Madoff, on the other hand, was a fraudster who ran a pyramid scheme, and only PRETENDED to make money for his customers.

    Some haters seem to stoop to using inapplicable comparisons of dissimilar things.