Monday, July 16, 2012
Why Apple's Siri leaves iPhone users wanting for more
Late last summer, I was introduced to a new special someone. I wasn't looking to meet this new muse, it all just kind of happened.
We met at an Apple product announcement in Cupertino, Calif. She was helpful, smart and even funny, cracking sarcastic jokes and making me laugh. What more could a guy ask for?
Since then, we have had some major communication issues. She frequently misunderstands what I'm saying. Sometimes she is just unavailable. Often, she responds with the same, repetitive statement.
Her name is Siri.
At first, Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant on Apple iPhones, seemed a little too good to be true. Siri lured me into a relationship promising to help me set up appointments, to gently wake me in the morning for work, and to give me the ability to text someone while I was driving.
It didn't work out that way. "There's something wrong, and I can't answer your questions right now. Please try again in a little while," Siri will say when I ask something. Or: "I'm really sorry about this, but I can't take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while."
She is always polite. But I'm starting to suspect that "I'm really sorry" is just something Siri says to shut me up.
Apple introduced Siri as a beta test, meaning it was still a work in progress. That was unusual for Apple, but the company was counting on it to change the way people searched for information on mobile devices. It wanted a head start.
But it doesn't seem ready to change anything yet. Many people I have spoken to have switched Siri off and reverted to the iPhone's voice dictation service (the little microphone next to the keyboard), which is more reliable because it doesn't use Siri's artificial intelligence software.
Those who have left it have done that for good reason. Gene Munster, a securities analyst at Piper Jaffray, recently ran a series of tests with Siri and discovered that this is a significant problem for Apple.
Munster subjected Siri to over 1,600 voice tests, half in a quiet room and half on a busy Minneapolis street. In the quiet room, Siri understood requests 89 percent of the time, but she was able to accurately answer a question only 68 percent of the time. On a busy street, Siri could comprehend what people were saying 83 percent of the time, but answer a question correctly only 62 percent of the time.
It could hear well enough.