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Why does Siri suck so bad? **UPDATED September 2018**
A lot of people really want to know why Siri sucks so bad…
For me, Siri is not a big part of my life… But occasionally, I do use Siri…
And in those situations I really wish it worked.
However, as of September 2018, there is “A New Hope” as they say in Star Wars. With the release of iOS 12, the Shortcuts app adds a ton of functionality and customization to Siri.
Most of my gripes with Siri are rooted in its lack of general understanding of who I am and where I am in my surroundings.
How I Want Siri To Work
Sometimes if I’m going to be late for a sales meeting I want to be able to call the person I’m meeting with and let them know I’m running late.
But I’m superstitious so the numbers for these people are almost never in my contacts…1
I try my best not to be a distracted driver. I see idiots everywhere (not me of course) driving while staring at their phones. Trying to look up a phone number on your phone is bad enough when you’re NOT driving.
So, since my iPhone is mounted on my dashboard, Siri is easy to access. I can grope for the home button and hold it to summon Siri without looking away from the road.2
What I need Siri to do seems to be so simple:
- Understand me.
- Look up the person, place or business and find a phone number.
- Call the phone number.
But Siri almost always disappoints (I’d say 75% of the time it’s no help. Or worse, provides the wrong information which I need to back out of).
Siri’s poor performance kicks in my emotions and makes me frustrated.
Then I start cursing Siri… Because I don’t understand why Siri sucks so bad.
Then logic kicks in… I think about it and I realize this is a hard problem and I’m being a first world complainer…
Then emotion comes back, and I think about Google Assistant, Alexa and Cortana and the fact that Apple is the most successful Silicon Valley startup in history. And the fact that they had first mover advantage with Siri.
Then I get pissed and think Siri’s performance is an embarrassment.
Apple, I Trust You More Than I Trust Google or Amazon.
I’ve read that one reason Siri sucks so bad is because of Apple’s “prioritization of user privacy” over private data collection features.
But I don’t understand this…
Because I would give Apple full access to all my data if doing so would fix Siri’s accuracy problem.
I wish using Siri was like the installation process for “Samantha” in the movie “Her”.
Theodore Twombley, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, ignores the terms of the end user license agreement (EULA) and then answers four questions to set up “OS1” access to all his data.3
Then Samantha asks him a few more questions about accessing his data, which he says OK to.
I would be OK with this in an Apple environment. Because for whatever reason I have more emotional trust built up in Apple’s security and privacy features than I do any other tech company.
I guess my high level of trust is because Apple is not primarily an advertising company. It’s a hardware and services company.
As a hardware company, I’m extremely satisfied. Services need improving. Siri could be great, if Apple would just do what needs to be done to know me better.
So, Apple, you can have as much of my data as you want.
I just want you to be able to look up information that I need with a simple voice command.
Which Settings Will Make Siri Smarter?
I don’t know… I have searched and gone through all my privacy settings and Siri has access to them all.
So, then I just want to know why… Why is Siri so bad? WHYYYYYYYY?
A Fast Company article quotes Greg Joswiak, VP of Product Marketing at Apple:
Joswiak argues that Siri can be every bit as helpful as other assistants without accumulating a lot of personal user data in the cloud, as companies like Facebook and Google are accustomed to doing. “We’re able to deliver a very personalized experience . . . without treating you as a product that keeps your information and sells it to the highest bidder. That’s just not the way we operate.”
But this guy who works at Apple is wrong…
With the exception of Siri for Apple TV, Siri is not every bit as helpful as other assistants, nor is Siri able to deliver a very personalized user experience. That’s just not the way Siri operates.
And can’t Apple use my data to make Siri more useful without selling my information to the highest bidder? I thought Apple and/or Siri was a vertically integrated experience (i.e. me > iPhone, etc. > Apple servers/Siri > iPhone, etc. > me).
I wanted to see if I could find an alternative to Siri for the iPhone.
I tried Google Assistant.
It’s free in the App Store.
I set up Google Assistant on my iPhone this morning to see if it was better than Siri.
I set it up and gave it access to everything it asked for.
Then I started asking questions to Siri and Google Assistant by switching back and forth.
Siri Has Known Me For 7 Years. Google Assistant Knows Me Better After 5 Minutes.
As a customer, Apple has known me for over a decade. Siri has known me, more or less, since October 4th, 2011, which is when the iPhone 4S came out with the beta version of Siri.
This morning I installed Google Assistant for the first time ever.
In 5 minutes Google Assistant was more accurate than Siri.
I asked them both about my day and a general question about a type of business nearby.
For the first question, Siri thought I was asking about a holiday.
Google Assistant proceeded to tell me about my day. Google said “Good morning, Rob…” gave me the time, the temperature and the forecast for the day, told me to “Have a good one” and then started to read the latest news from NPR.
I was literally blown away by this… It must have known that I liked NPR because of the apps I have installed. Bonus!
Then I asked where the nearest candy store is.
Siri knows where I live, so both of these queries should be easy to handle. I have literally lived at the same address for over 8 years.
But, no… Again, Siri screwed it up and Google Assistant got it exactly right.
I have never heard of “Penny Ha’penny” but apparently it’s in the next town over.
Meanwhile, Google Assistant picked out the nearest candy store perfectly. This candy store excellent, and also has great homemade ice cream, and is pretty famous.
I can literally walk there.
But Siri doesn’t know it.
Every teenager in town has an iPhone and goes to this sweet shop. The fact that Apple says that Siri is used on over half a billion devices makes it seem even more unforgivable.
Maybe Apple is treating Siri like Facebook treats social… Like it woke up on 3rd base and thinks it hit a triple.
Which Personal Assistant is the Most Accurate?
Stone Temple did some research last year comparing personal assistants and my experience is consistent with their report above.
I don’t really understand this, though, because I thought Siri uses Google for search queries.
Update: Google Duplex Just Leapfrogged Siri
Earlier this week Google announced “Duplex” for Google Assistant.
Google Duplex is so realistic it will make your head spin. The Duplex software lets Google Assistant go on the offensive… Instead of just responding to queries, Google Duplex can “save you time” with mundane tasks like scheduling reservations and appointments.
The demo of Google Duplex is insane. The humans on the other end of the phone clearly have no idea they are talking to an AI.
The ethical and security implications invoke Elon Musk’s concern about “summoning the demon” of AI.
The Key To Enjoying Siri Is Accepting That There Multiple Siris
I have tried Siri on the following Apple products:
- Apple TV
- Apple Watch
Each Siri seems to have useful applications that are unique to its hardware.
Once you understand which commands Siri understands for which device, Siri becomes much more useful.
Siri on Apple Watch
For instance, Siri on Apple Watch seems to be better at transcribing my voice texts than Siri on iPhone. I use my Apple Watch to text people sometimes, and Siri almost always gets my speech correct.
Siri on Apple TV (is Awesome)
My wife and I recently “cut the cord” on cable. Now we just have a high speed Internet connection and a bunch of subscriptions to digital content from Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
When we first set this up, we were using the Internet connection built into the Samsung HD TV we have to access Netflix, Amazon, etc. using the pre-built buttons on the remote that came with the TV.
But I noticed that the streaming that goes through the Samsung TV was poor, when compared to the streaming that happens through an Apple TV. Sound would… cut… out… con…stant…ly, for no re…as…on.
I fixed this by using Apple TV as the “digital hub” for all of our digital content and media subscriptions.
No more sound problems.
Then I upgraded from a 2nd generation Apple TV to the most recent (non-4K) Apple TV with Siri capabilities.
Wow. Siri on Apple TV is surprisingly awesome.
This is because the bad “form factor” problem with TV remotes is basically gone.
All you have to do is tell Siri what show you want to watch and it gets it automatically. Say the name of a show and Siri “knows” what app the show is associated with (eg. “Daredevil” on Netflix) and it fires up the right “App” that you need (i.e. for Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) and *boom* you get your show.
Speaking into the Siri powered remote is also very convenient, because you can just whisper into it. You don’t have to act like an a-hole on a train talking screaming at Siri into your phone.
Siri on Apple TV understands when you say “The Cloverfield Paradox” or “Family Guy” or “Billions” or “The Real Housewives” or “Fixer Upper“… All of these are on separate streaming apps, but Apple TV gets it and takes you to each separate app, with no surprises, almost instantly.
This actually solves a real problem. It can imagine in a perfect world Apple TV would provide you with a list of all the shows in some sort of easy to read display that you could see what is on when, etc. For instance, on Hulu, it bugs the shit out of me that even though I’m paying for “Shark Tank” with Hulu, I can’t tell why certain episodes are not available or when they are going to disappear. (If Apple TV had this information it would be incredible).
Not only is the Apple TV with Siri a game changer… Siri is the best part of Apple TV, hands down.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Siri “solves” the whole shitty remote thing.4
Siri on HomePod
I just tried Siri on HomePod. Sometimes Siri gets it right, and other times it disappoints. Siri still has trouble understanding things in terms of music, artists and albums. Also, the configuration of HomePod and whether you’re using Siri or an iOS device to control it can be confusing.
Aside from basic commands, such as playing music in your Apple iTunes library, or playing a genre of music from Apple Music, sending a text or setting a timer, HomePod doesn’t handle Internet searches very well.
We wanted Siri to tell us that Vienna was the capital of Austria…
We said “Hey Siri, where’s Vienna?”… But Siri thought we were asking about a person and responded that it couldn’t locate people on HomePod.
We then asked “Hey Siri, where is Vienna located in Europe?” but we got the same answer about not being able to locate the person.
Then we asked “Hey Siri, what’s the capital of Austria?” and Siri answered correctly.
Siri on iPhone
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I find voice queries on Siri on iPhone to be frustrating because I think if Siri doesn’t know an answer, it should default to offering up an answer it can gather from publicly available information.
Then read you that information, the way Google Assistant does.
The Siri Singularity
But maybe each Siri instance is unique to the hardware it’s associated with for a reason.
While I’m griping about one type of Siri not working, Apple could be trying to “tune” all the different Siris so that they are unique in each circumstance, by device.
Then, in my fantasies, I imagine that Apple will flip the “master switch” and magically all the Siris will work well with each other in a seamless user experience across all Apple devices and environments.
Most of Apple’s Products are Great.
I know the engineering teams at Apple care about the fact that Siri sucks.
I realize I’m complaining from the sidelines…
I’m not the one working on Siri.
I know I’m akin to an armchair quarterback… I’m just sipping a beer and screaming at the QB or the ref.
That said, I’m rooting for Apple.
I use almost all of Apple’s products.
iPhone is incredible and undervalued. I use a Macbook Pro (without the notorious “butterfly keyboard”). AirPods are an insanely great product created under Tim Cook. The Apple Watch is also great and got me to wear a watch again.5 I used to wear a Rolex GMT Master II. Then I wore nothing for awhile. Now I wear an Apple Watch.
Both of these Apple products work better than I ever imagined. They’re the first step in becoming a cyborg.
But Apple needs a “snap out of it!” moment when it comes to Siri.
If you have any insights from a technology perspective as to why Siri sucks so bad, please comment below.
- I have this superstition that if I put people I’m calling on in my contacts before I have sold them, I won’t get the sale. Also, why would I put someone I don’t have a relationship with (yet) in my contacts?
- I’m not sure how this would work from the iPhone X. I use an iPhone 6S which works fine for tactile summoning of Siri using the home button.
- 1) Are you social, or anti-social, 2) In your voice, I sense hesitance… Would you agree with that? 3) Would you like your OS to have a male or female voice and 4) How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
- Now I wish the Apple TV remote would be able to learn other remotes that I have so that I could use Siri with those remotes as well.
- I just have the 2nd generation version of the Apple Watch, but it’s awesome.