siri-1

Poor old Siri doesn’t seem to get much love from many users. When I recently mentioned it as the reason I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the 4S, quite a few disparaging comments were made about the service. Our finding this weekend that Apple now considers Siri good enough to lose the beta tag caused Gizmodo to wonder who actually uses it.

I thought its reclassification as a fully-fledged iOS feature would be a good time to persuade those who’ve abandoned the assistant to give Siri another chance … 

Let’s start with the obvious: when Siri  first launched, it wasn’t very good. It certainly didn’t get anywhere close to living up to the promises made in the ads. It would fairly often fail to understand us. Sometimes it would just sit there displaying that annoying ‘three purple dots’ animation. When it did understand us, it would often fail to answer our question.

siri

I was a big Dragon Dictate user at the time, and my experience with Dragon probably led to me having more patience with Siri than most. You see, Dragon also wasn’t very good out of the box. But I persisted. I did more training exercises with it, and I painstakingly used voice commands to correct its mistakes (the only way it learns). The first couple of weeks were very hard work, and I came close to giving up.

But I didn’t, and after a month, my Dragon experience had been transformed. Accuracy was about 98 percent. I was easily dictating all my emails, chat messages and much of my work, with just the odd manual correction here and there. I was saving masses of time.

So when my early experiences with Siri were also a little frustrating, I stuck with it. And just like Dragon, the more I used it, the better it got. Within a month, its accuracy was, if not quite at Dragon levels, extremely high. I now rarely use the keyboard on my iPhone, dictating all my texts, emails, calendar appointments, reminders and notes.

washingtonpost

Many people didn’t get that far with it. If you’re one of them, I think it’s helpful to view Siri as two separate components. First, dictation. To allow you to dictate things like texts and emails, all Siri has to do is convert the speech into text. It doesn’t actually need to understand the content, it only has to recognise the words.

Second, understanding the content of those words. That’s much tougher. Couple mistakes in transcribing the speech with the limited level of artificial intelligence built into Siri, and it’s not surprising that many started tearing out their hair and writing it off as a lost cause.

My suggestion is to view Siri primarily as a dictation device. Instead of asking it to do stuff, ask it to type stuff. Stick with it for a couple of weeks (Apple’s Siri servers keep individual voice files for each user to improve recognition over time), and my experience is that you’ll then have a very capable transcription device.

Image: technomag.com

Image: technomag.com

Which brings us to the question and command side of things. The number of phrases Siri understood at launch was extremely limited. Partly because it had limited functionality, and partly because the Siri engineers didn’t know all of the different wording people might use to make the same request. Siri might have been expecting “What are my appointments this afternoon?” while you ask “What have I got on this afternoon?” and I ask “What am I up to later today?”.

But that’s been another massive part of Siri’s learning experience. As of next month, Siri will have had two years’ experience of what tens of millions of people ask and how they ask it. All of that experience has been used to teach Siri to understand a much broader range of phrasings, so something it didn’t understand two years ago, it may well understand now. Once you’ve given Siri a fortnight to learn your voice, give it a try with some commands: you might be pleasantly surprised.

Photo: londonminiguide.com

Photo: londonminiguide.com

None of which is to say that Siri is perfect. One obvious weakness is that everything is online: Siri has to digitise your voice, send that data to an Apple server and then wait for the decoded text to be sent back. That adds delay, and means you can’t use it when you don’t have a net connection (like on London’s tube network).

That may be changing soon. The A5 chip in the iPhone 4S likely didn’t have the processing power needed for local voice-recognition. It’s not certain that the latest A7 chip in the iPhone 5s does either, but the code needed for offline Siri use is sitting, currently inactive, in iOS 7. It may well be a feature that Apple plans to switch on soon. Once it does, the days of waiting for a server response should be at an end.

Image: n3rdabl3.co.uk

Image: n3rdabl3.co.uk

That still leaves one thing I find enormously frustrating about Siri, and that’s the lack of support for third-party apps. My iPhone knows where I am, and knows where I live. I have a trains app on it that knows the time of my next train home. But two years on, I still can’t ask Siri “What time is my next train home, and what platform does it go from?” because Siri can’t interrogate the app. That, to me, is pretty ridiculous.

Apple does need to open up Siri to third-party apps, and I’m sure it will: it’s a question of when rather than if. Once it does, and you can ask your iPhone any question that can be answered by any of your apps, I’m sure than even the most dismissive will decide to give Siri that second chance.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

43 Responses to “Opinion: As Siri makes it out of beta, is it time to give it another chance?”

  1. I honestly do believe that Siri has definitely been improved a lot compared to two years ago. It definitely deserves to leave beta status.

    Like

  2. I think Siri and Google Now have both proven to the world that people really do not want to talk to technology. Maybe that feeling will change in the future. But we aren’t their yet.

    Like

    • lagax says:

      You seriously can’t compare Siri to Google now. As strange as this, Siri is pretty funny and tries to joke around and stuff, Google now gives you your answers, and that’s it! If Siri gets even more intelligent… and even more intelligent… and even more intelligent… then I think that’s the right concept, but that’s far away.

      Like

      • So, what questions have you been asking which are responded with a joke? Oh, the ones everybody tried because they didn’t know what to ask… How about you ask the same questions from Google and see how Siri responds in iOS 7. Do it.

        Like

    • ethansisson says:

      What people? I do. Most of my family does. Many of my co-workers do. And Siri works beautifully for the many commands I use it for. I have a disability that makes it difficult to transfer information from working memory to long-term memory. Siri is really great at creating reminders (which then often get imported into Things). If that was Siri’s only command I would still want it.

      Like

  3. I genuinely like Siri and use it a fair amount. When I’m driving I can invoke it and send a text without taking my eyes off of the road or my mirrors. The only thing you need to do is home button hold … which I can deal with :D But more than that, it’s a really good way of finding the information you need online. It’s really helped me. Less typing, more information consuming! :)

    Like

  4. haquers says:

    I wish Siri were more conversational, or could take back-to-back requests, as in: “How did the Red Sox do?”, followed by “and what about the Yankees?”

    Like

  5. Len Williams says:

    I’ve never understood the incessant bitching I hear about Siri. Since I got my iPhone 4S I’ve successfully and daily used Siri to give me directions, call people in my contacts list, find stores and find various things on the web. She’s worked very well for me and I’d be lost without her. Yes, I’ve had the occasional problem with Siri not understanding what I said, but this rarely happens (less than 1% of the time). What I seem to hear most is “what Siri doesn’t do is…” which I find ridiculous because it’s not living up to someone else’s standards. I’m frustrated as hell that my car doesn’t fly, but I somehow manage to carry on despite the inconvenience.

    Instead of concentrating on what Siri doesn’t do, I’ve been happily using Siri for the things she DOES do (as above) so well. If the new and improved Siri in iOS 7 is even better, I’ll be even happier than I already am.

    Like

  6. I use the German Siri and it is still a very terrible experience. There are two main problems:

    1. Lack of data bases. German Siri is not connected to many services it is connected to in the US. If I ask Siri when Lincoln died, it doesn’t come up with anything.

    2. It can only interpret German. Let me explain you what I mean. I ask “Wann starb Abraham Lincoln?” and Siri interprets it as “Wann starb etwa Herr Lincoln?” – a complete nonsense sentence. I want my phone to play “Blurred Lines” and it doesn’t understand. Siri barely gets any English words. And that’s a big problem as the German language by now contains a lot of English words. So when I dictate, I painstakingly have to avoid any English words.

    In Germany, Google is drastically better. I ask Google for when Lincoln died and it tells me straight away. Google is incredibly good at interpreting what I search and in then giving me exactly that. Siri isn’t. I obviously cannot ask Google to play music to me. Yet.

    Generally speaking, Siri is alright for weather and for dictation. It’s useless for everything else. I find that incredibly disappointing.

    Like

    • lagax says:

      I am German too, but I use it in english since this is really a lot better. ‘Wann starb Abraham Lincoln?’ Was accepted by the iOS 7 Siri for me and she gave me the Wikipedia page for Abraham Lincoln.

      Like

    • I speak three languages – my mother tongue from south africa (which iOS still doesn’t support), English and Italian (I live here).

      I use English and Italian daily but I’m forced to choose one for Siri as she is unable to switch languages at my request – therefore, Siri can’t help me for half of what I do daily. If she is in italian mode I can’t reply to my mom’s iMessage in english while driving for instance. She can’t phone most of my english friends because she knows only Italian names! I’ve learnt how to “falsely” pronounce some of them so that she would be able to understand. Don’t get me started on asking her to play some english band from my library – she gets it wrong – almost every time.. ex. vampire weekend becomes Van par weekend

      If I change her back to English she won’t be able to find places in maps because she doesn’t understand the italian names, towns etc. She won’t be able to send messages to my italian friends – it’s just a mess..

      One thing Apple (in general) need to work on is being able to understand (or change) language pronunciation.

      while I’m at it – and this isn’t related to siri – Apple, the rest of the world speaks more than one language in general per day! PLEASE have a no-language keyboard option to add to the other keyboards we use daily in order to be able to use non-supported languages without having things being auto-corrected all the time.

      Like

  7. I use Siri quite a bit, but there are moments of frustration when it just doesn’t understand me or the context of my query. I don’t have an accent, speak very clearly, and it does register every words I’m speaking. It just can’t seem to parse or correlate everything correctly. That, plus every once it a while, she completely chokes and apologizes that she can’t process the request.

    Google, on the other hand, I have been able to throw nearly every phrase to it and it picks it up without so much of a hiccup.

    It’s a shame that the Google app can’t pull my iOS contacts. It only seems to register contacts stored in Google/Gmail, so I’d have to get a third party app to sync it across.

    Like

    • mistergsf says:

      @BeyondtheTech says, “Google, on the other hand, I have been able to throw nearly every phrase to it and it picks it up without so much of a hiccup.”

      You know that Google commercial where the little boy asks “What is glossophobia?”. Well, I’ve been trying to ask that same question on the Google app and it took me 9 tries before it understood me. I have no accent, I spoke clearly, I enunciated, and on the last try, it heard me correctly. Here is what my attempts looked like,

      1. What is glass a phobia?
      2. What is possible be a?
      3. What is claustrophobia?
      4. What is classifieds?
      5. What is plus phobia?
      6. What is plausible be a?
      7. What is glass of OB a?
      8. What is going to be a?

      Google is not perfect either.

      Like

  8. Mark Granger says:

    In iOS 7, try adjusting the screen brightness using Siri. “Make the screen brighter.” Siri: OK I made it a bit brighter. “Full brightness” Siri: That’s as bright as it gets.
    This is a start of something big. Siri can do things easily that are more difficult to do with the normal touch UI. The screen brightness can be set manually in the Settings app but it is now much easier and faster to do with Siri. I imagine that in the future we will be able to do things with Siri that would be extremely difficult or impossible to do with the normal user interface. For example: “Make the screen full brightness when I am indoors” or “Turn off the ringer when I am in a movie theater”.

    Like

  9. I uses Siri everyday. It’s very usefull. I also frequently use the speech-to-text function. Sure there are hiccups, but don’t you have hiccups when you surf the web? Siri is an internet-based feature. So there’s no difference between a slow response and a webpage that doesn’t load quickly. No one complains about that.

    Like

    • ethansisson says:

      Who cares about what’s happening behind the scenes? If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. Slow network is no consolation for the average user, even if it’s not actually a simple problem to solve.

      Also, you should see my tears when webpages don’t load very quickly. :D

      Like

  10. More languages for Siri.
    Apple does not seem to update Siri.
    HD voices??? That´s no update.

    The 10 Most Popular Spoken Languages in the World
    1. Mandarin Chinese – 882 million
    2. Spanish – 325 million
    3. English – 312-380 million
    4. Arabic – 206-422 million
    5. Hindi – 181 million
    6. Portuguese – 178 million
    7. Bengali – 173 million
    8. Russian – 146 million
    9. Japanese – 128 million
    10. German – 96 million

    Like

    • ethansisson says:

      That list isn’t very relevant to language support for Siri. You would want to look at a list of the most popular spoken languages among iPhone owners.

      Like

  11. I’m not one to ask Siri to do overly complex stuff; it’s a great feature when I’m using it practically. It’s more en vogue to discuss that Siri can’t do what Google does, like “dictating step-by-step timed instructions on cooking chateaubriand while adjusting for altitude, suggesting wines pairing while calling the highest-reated sommelier based on my area, along with searching eHarmony for suggested dinner guests and Gmailing prospective matches based on everything my device knows about me, my history, and the fabric of my soul.”

    I can’t walk my dogs and send/reply to work texts/emails at the same time. I try not to handle appointments while driving. When I’m out with the missus, I can pull up whether or not the movies Now Playing pass Rotten Tomatoes muster.

    Siri’s been a charm for the things I know I’ve needed, not the fanciful things I think I might want.

    Like

  12. degraevesofie says:

    Count me among those who have always found Siri useful (in English, with a Dutch accent).

    That said, I use it for relatively few things. Mostly to set alarms, timers, enter calendar entries, and more recently to start apps that aren’t on my first two pages.

    I think it has improved notably since its release. Strangely, iOS 7 beta seems to get it wrong more often when I dictate “from sleep” (i.e., phone is asleep, hold button, talk -> get back a Siri message that it couldn’t figure things out), but then it’s tremendously accurate on the second try.

    Regarding improved computing power enabling local processing: I suspect the limiting factor is not computing power but data set size. I.e., the iPhone 4S’s A5 may already enough computing power, but Apple’s servers have access to an immense amount of data to match voice queries and that cannot currently be integrated in the handset.

    Like

    • Lucien Dol says:

      I also speak English with a Dutch accent and I noticed how much better Siri has become. In the beginning there was almost no question that Siri understood. Now, “she” correctly interprets most stuff that I throw at her.
      Or has my English just improved? :-)

      Like

  13. The biggest problem with Siri, for me, is the way it handles instructions around contacts and music.

    Before Siri, when there was just ‘Voice Control’, when you told it to, say, ‘Play the album “Some Nights” by Fun’, it would quickly scan through your music library and figure out which album was the closest match to the words it had just listened to. The same with calling – ‘Call John Doe’ would again scan your contacts, figure out which one you meant, and call it.

    With Siri, it doesn’t check your music library or your contacts. So when you say ‘Play the album “Some Nights” by Fun’ and it decides that what you actually said was ‘Play the album “Sun Nights” by Fun’ it will simply come back and tell you ‘You don’t have any albums called “Sun Nights”‘ without actually trying to analyse your library to see what you might have meant. Likewise, ‘Call John Doe’ might be interpreted as ‘Call John Dough’ and… well, you get the picture.

    Both of these are much bigger issues for me than they sound. I use Siri when I’m driving and because of these quirks it is actually impossible to get it to dial some contacts at all, and impossible to get it to play music by certain artists because it simply will not think for itself. I wish Apple would fix this — the predecessor Voice Control was much more advanced in this respect.

    Like

    • rahhbriley says:

      I’d agree that voice control was more accurate at things like dialing contacts and playing music. I wish they would find a way to make Siri operate more like that as well. Maybe it needs to process slightly on the device first to determine if it even needs to make a web query to the Apple servers? Idk. But the authors point about processing speeds in regards to device dictation and commands, I think is off the mark. Because of Voice Control and Dragon Dictation’s capability before Siri was introduced, it can’t be due to the processor. It’s related to the order of how Siri handles things with the server I believe.

      Like

  14. I use Siri every day mainly in the car, she reads my daily schedules, schedules meetings, sends texts and emails etc. I tell my wife and colleagues to switch to English and can have whole text message conversations whilst driving. There is sometimes frustrations especially with names but granted that the Slavic names must be difficult for the server to recognise. The fingerprint scanner is tempting – unlocking the phone whilst driving is not smart but I do it sometimes to be honest – if they put processing on the A7 chip and we get super snappy Siri it will be very hard to resist the 5S…

    Like

  15. inthepattern says:

    I recently reset my siri service, which wiped out all voice history. It was amazing to see how much it didn’t understand after I had done that. Now that a few weeks has passed and I still use it daily, Siri is much more responsive and accurate. My advice: Treat Siri as an toddler and let it grow with you. With just a few weeks of Training, me and Siri, it’s now very usable.

    Like

  16. I am like you. I have been using Siri since day one for dictating my text messages and other things especially when my hands are not free to type, and the experience just keeps getting better and better all the time.

    I also still have random conversations with Siri to see if her answers changed; I use her to convert currency, to google search, to ask questions and word definitions…. etc.

    I think those who moan about Siri are either people who are impatient or have unrealistic expectations from a new virtual assistant without taking the time to get familiar first :)

    Like

  17. Siri on iOS7 GM still does not provide mapping in New Zealand.

    Like

    • I have had my frustrating times with trying to use Siri and she just doesn’t understand what I am saying. But recently (past few months) she has gotten MUCH better.

      Today, I’m driving in the car and asked her to call Pacific Volkswagen. Siri: Pacific Volkswagen is not in your contacts, would you like me to find that nearby? Me: Yes. Siri: I found Pacific Volkswagen nearby. Me: call them, Siri: calling Pacific Volkswagen.

      This is what I want to use Siri for. If it’s faster, or safer, to use Siri then that is beneficial to the user. However, if she doesn’t understand you and you end up having to type something or manually search for something, it not only doesn’t save you time, it take more of your time (and patience).

      I am sure that Siri will show big improvement in the iOS 7 upgrade and moving forward. I look forward to the improvement.

      Like

  18. g2-7b2e69dc6cc11d02c1a9cd2a9f178d9e says:

    I couldn’t really give a darn about how many phrases Siri understands. I would be happy with the logical conversion of my spoken words to correctly-spelled words. I try to use it to dictate texts instead of typing and time after time, it takes longer to correct all the misunderstood words than it does to type the entire message to begin with. Even when I speak clearly (which is a near constant, in an effort to get a message that doesn’t need to be fixed), I still get too many errors. I think Siri is a joke. It is my #1 complaint about my phone.

    Like

  19. herb02135go says:

    When I use Siri it gets it right after about four tries, even for very simple tasks. This is a miserable 25% success rate. I am a native English speaker and work in broadcasting, so there shouldn’t be any problems. Dragon products don’t have any issues.
    I think Siri is another example of Apple pushing out a product that’s not ready in a vain attempt to keep up with Samsung (Maps, anyone?)
    Siri is good for party tricks but as a useful tool it’s joke.

    Like

    • lagax says:

      Emm, you know Siri came before S-Voice? And S-Voice is pure shit? And Siri is the best Assistant out there? And Samsung doesn’t have Maps itself? And Apple is like min 5 years ahead of samsung? SERIOUSLY come on!

      Like

  20. Rorry Affiat says:

    my hope for siri is, better voice/language recognition, will be “offline”(doesn’t need an internet) and can be voice activate just like the moto X.

    Like