Siri, it’s not me, it’s definitely you

It’s time for Apple to dump Siri and buy Viv before Google or Facebook do.

Viv comes from the same people who created Siri. Here’s Viv CEO demonstrating his new technology at TechCrunch Disrupt. The difference is that with the new product, they’re developing it into what Siri was intended to be. Apple, meanwhile, has fumbled the football with Siri since it was introduced as a beta product on the iPhone 4s in 2011.

Siri is not good.

People on Twitter and podcasts say Siri works well for them, but I don’t understand how that can be. No one that I personally know has success with it. For awhile I ran a website called Siri Fail, and people would send me screenshots of Siri completely failing to understand them or to perform any useful function whatsoever even if it did. One of the biggest recurring issues I saw from those is Siri’s inability to find someone in Contacts, even when the speech recognition engine parsed the name and spelled it correctly. It’s happened to me, too. Other times I’ll say “message so-and-so” and Siri responds “Who would you like me to send this message to?” even though on screen, it shows the name of the person I want to message, correct spelling and all. It’s mind bogglingly bad.

Apple also claims that Siri is contextually aware, but Siri can’t even associate a statement with the previous thing that was said, most of the time. Maybe in very specific circumstances, for very specific and carefully phrased questions, Siri can relate it back to the previous exchange, but it probably takes a major planetary alignment event to get it to happen.

Periodically Apple updates Siri to be smarter about giving out game scores and other stupid things no one cares about, and it drives me insane. The snark and cute answer repertoire they’re building into it aggravates me. I don’t want it to be funny or try to make me laugh; I want it to comprehend plain English and not make me yell or over-enunciate everything to be understood. Siri (and voice dictation) on the iPhone also has a maddening way of dropping the first and last words of everything I say. No one I know keeps their voice at the same volume or tone throughout an entire sentence, but Siri requires it anyway. Speak like a robot to speak to a robot, I guess.

Speaking of yelling at Siri, sometimes the “Hey, Siri” function just quits working. It won’t respond. The only way to make it work again is to trigger Siri with the home button. Again – when you need it to work, and you cannot or don’t want to touch the iPhone, it can and will fail you badly. This is not optimal, considering its entire job is to enable convenience and functionality without having to give up, pick up the iPhone, and manually perform the task yourself.

I don’t claim that Apple has not improved Siri in the past 5 years. I am claiming, however, that Apple has not improved Siri enough, or in the right areas. When Siri fails me, it fails me when I need it the most, when I cannot use my hands on the phone, but have to in order to complete whatever task I wanted Siri to do for me. It’s always on a basic task, like calling or messaging someone, because that’s all I use Siri for. That’s all anyone uses Siri for. It doesn’t know how to do anything else meaningfully. Almost everything results in a generic web search.

Siri can’t even launch apps reliably. Most of the time, “Launch X” works fine. But there are bizarre cases, like “Launch Mac ID” that just crash and burn miserably. For that app, I have to say “Open the app Mac ID”, and then I get the desired result. Why? Surely Siri can tell from the apps on the iPhone that Mac ID is indeed an app installed on the iPhone so that I don’t have to specify that it’s an app, right?

No.

What else would launch even mean on an iPhone? I’m not in charge of the nuke launch codes, Siri. That kind of thing is bestowed upon people like Putin and (hopefully not) Donald Trump. I assume it’s also not tied to anyone’s smartphone, but that’s probably a terrible assumption these days.

I won’t even get into the details of how often Siri just forgets established relationships, like who my wife is, who my dad is, and even who I am. How many of you have had Siri say to you “I don’t know who you are, or even know anything about you”? It’s happened to me once, and to my friend Peter at least twice. This is basic, inexcusable nonsense that is obviously related to a dependency on Contacts data. It doesn’t matter – this is something Apple should get right, and it affects Siri’s performance and completely destroys trust in the technology.

Watch the YouTube video of Viv in action at TechCrunch Disrupt. If it can really learn and program its own contextual awareness and responses based on input from people, it’s already way ahead of Siri. Siri can’t learn. Siri only gains knowledge based on what Apple occasionally decides to intentionally program into it, like baseball game scores and indignant responses to being sworn at. Considering how often swearing is required when feebly attempting to communicate with Siri, I get why Apple focuses so much attention there, but it just adds to the maddening quality of using their personal assistant who isn’t.