Hey Siri, why do you suck?

No matter where you stand on iOS versus Android or MacOS versus Windows or really Apple versus any other ecosystem, there is a universal truth that we can pretty much all get behind:

Siri sucks.

Techpinions recently posted an article on iPhone X customer satisfaction, and the graph details this truth pretty brutally – consumers are super happy with the iPhone X in every aspect except for Siri.  This has prompted a lot of extra opining on the subject lately by tech journalists, so naturally I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray myself.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t feel like tech journalists understand the plight of regular people, since most of them exist in a bubble in which they live and breathe any and all tech, which divorces them from reality at times.  This is another of those cases, because over and over again, when I hear tech journalists complain about Siri, it’s always something along the lines of, “Siri sucks because it doesn’t have enough access to your data.”  I have no idea where they are drawing this conclusion from, but it always drives the conversation to what Apple can give Siri access to in order to make it better, which is a terrible assertion and the wrong direction for the conversation to go in entirely.

Siri doesn’t need additional access to be better; Siri just needs to work, period.  The only thing Siri is okay at right now is setting reminders/timers, sending text messages, and controlling HomeKit accessories.  And while Siri is good at those things, even some simple commands throw it for a loop.  As I understand it, commands given to Siri get send to one of multiple Siri processing servers at Apple, and then a result is returned.  Sometimes, it feels like the fate of your command is dependent on which server it hits, because 9 out of 10 times, your command will process and work properly, but the 10th time, it won’t.

One wacky personal example of this was when my wife and I were headed on a weekend getaway to the mountains.  I activated Siri and said, “Give me directions to Lake Lure, North Carolina,” and consistently, multiple times in a row, it returned directions to a completely unrelated town in a totally different state.  There was no rhyme or reason to this.  This town didn’t sound anything like my command, Siri just straight up failed to get anything about my request correct other than that I wanted directions to a place.  Siri has navigated me to Lake Lure multiple times with no issue, but in this instance, it gave a completely bizarre response.

And it’s not just stupid failures of the server that make Siri dumb; she’s literally unable to do requests that feel totally obvious.

“Hey Siri, turn on the flashlight.”

“Sorry, I’m unable to do that.”

“Hey Siri, take a selfie.”

*opens the front facing camera, doesn’t take a picture*

These are both on-device commands which pose little to no privacy concerns.

Then, there’s one of the biggest complaints about Siri – general knowledge questions.  I’m not talking personal data, I’m talking, “What is the name of those gates in Japan?”  For this type of question, Siri will just do a Google search and display the top results.  The correct result is at the top, but this is entirely not useful if I’m driving or if I ask a HomePod or if I’m across the room.  Google Assistant, on the other hand, responds verbally with the correct answer and some information from Wikipedia, correctly identifying the answer to my question as “torii.”

Take note again, that question was not context based, nor did it require any sort of permissions to my personal data.  It was simply a request to find some basic data on the web.  Sure, I can ask Siri how tall Natalie Portman is, and she’ll answer, but that’s just par for the course.  If I can ask that, I should be able to ask other general knowledge questions like I can with Google Assistant, and the fact that Siri only sometimes knows the answer to my questions makes me less likely to try it for new things.

Why waste my time attempting to see if Siri will tell me what the fastest production car in the world is when it’s so inconsistent with literally everything else?  It will (surprisingly) answer that question, by the way, which is the saddest part of this situation.  Siri can do a lot of things that people don’t know about, but none of us are willing to waste our time with trying because of how often it ends up being a waste of time.

Quite frankly, I don’t care if Siri can’t tell me information about flights I booked or if it can’t give me contextual information based on the website I’m currently looking at.  Lacking the ability to do both of those things, which Google Assistant can do, is not why Siri sucks.  The fact that Siri keeps more data on device is great for users that care deeply about privacy, and I don’t think that’s something needs to change.

Making Siri better is not a matter of privacy versus convenience; it’s a matter of getting consistent performance, being able to do the things that you’d expect of a smart assistant (within the focused space of on-device privacy), and becoming better at answering general knowledge questions.


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