Is Siri a Siri-ous Step Forward?

Apple enthusiasts the world over are getting their hands on the new iPhone 4S and, while we’ve given a lot of attention to it already on our show, I want to focus in on Siri in particular for a moment.

While the other upgrades to the 4S help bring it in line with some of the phones already out or upcoming in 2011, Siri is (for now) the one really distinguishing feature. Apple has once again trumped the competition; not by beating them at their own game, but by going in a completely different direction and playing a completely different game. Voice recognition is admittedly nothing new, but it’s never been done to quite the same extent on a smart phone. There’s something infinitely intriguing about Siri and it has little, if anything, to do with how much time it’ll save you. No, the fascination with Siri comes from impressing your friends (and the iPhone has enough goofy apps for that already) and finding the so-called ‘easter eggs‘.

This article stumbled across a few of them, and undoubtedly there are many more to be found. But with the fact Siri is still in beta (and since the Canadian one doesn’t have all the features) you have to be worried about something going wrong. When you factor in Apple’s notoriously shoddy auto-correct (caution: link NSFW for language), would you really trust it to handle anything sensitive? And if you have a friend who is a practical joker, would you let him or her anywhere near the thing if they could trigger a disaster in mere seconds?

For illustration purposes only, I hope.

An extreme example to be sure, but the point is valid.

I think the other interesting part is that Apple is using its fans as beta testers. It’s something that other companies do very often, but I can’t think of another instance where Cupertino has taken advantage of its device owners to work out the kinks of its latest products. I’m not slamming them for it; far from it. I think it’s a great idea, especially with a technology like this where the user experience can vary wildly, but of course it’s a shift for Apple as they so often keep things under wraps until they’re completed.

This Mashable article sums up my argument well and I want to highlight two lines in particular…

…Siri works just barely well enough for Apple to pull it off, bolstered by the iPhone 4S’s faster processor and better camera (among what Apple boasts as 197 other incremental improvements), all doing their part to strengthen the lure of this updated iPhone. Over the 48 hours I’ve been using Siri, it’s hard to tell if it’s actually improving its speech recognition, but as it stands, it’s just good enough to be fun to use…

And that’s why I predict Siri will remain a niche feature that gets pulled out at parties, but is too gimmicky to be useful outside of long car trips or perhaps the few other instances where your hands are occupied and you urgently need to respond to a message. That’s assuming it’s a quiet party of course, since there are reports of it having trouble with loud environments (as well as certain accents). The lone exception would be, as Apple pointed out in their launch video, for those who are visually impaired and could use this to write their messages for them. But as commenters on other blogs have pointed out, Android has similar (albeit less sophisticated) software that would be able to handle those basic functions.

And now I want to hear from you iPhone 4S owners. How often are you using Siri? Has it got any of your instructions wrong so far? Could you see yourself using this instead of typing most things in?


Here’s a fun use for it for you Portal fans.

About Talknowledgy

Posts from the mind of Ottawa communications professional Phil Gaudreau. To email me, it's

Posted on 10/17/2011, in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Is Siri a Siri-ous Step Forward?.

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