When I bought the iPad mini, I also got my first Siri-enabled device. I’ve interacted with it before on other people’s devices, but never been able to truly try out the features of it. Now I have, and I can only say one thing: This thing is Siriously stupid.
Originally, I had planned a long video showing all the ways Siri fails in comparison to Nelly, my Tasker-based self-made voice assistant on Android. After looking at the footage though, I realized that the 20 second clip you see above really sums up my gripe with Siri without having to pile on the humiliation with videos of it failing everything from existential questions to finding movie times in my city.
The big difference between Nelly and Siri is how they’re designed. Siri is a lowest common denominator product, designed to fit as many of Apple’s millions of people as possible. Every feature, even combination of words it understands, are designed to fit the majority of people. As such, you have a ton of features in there, all of which are available and work in a certain way regardless of what you actually need.
Nelly, on the other hand, is built by me. From scratch. Every single feature is programmed in by me. When I ask it for movie times, it doesn’t grab my location and tries to find info in an online database, it uses the website for my local cinema, like I programmed it to. When I ask it for temperature information, it doesn’t do a location search online, it reads the temperature sensor I have hanging outside my window, because I told it to do that. When I ask it to turn off the light, it knows how to do it, because I added that feature. Unlike Siri, it wouldn’t understand me if I ask if I need an umbrella, because I never ask that, so I didn’t program it to know what that means.
The end result is two very different voice assistants. One that does what I need, and one that doesn’t. Siri can’t turn off my lights. Siri can’t give me as accurate of a temperature reading. It can’t find movie times, because I live in a small city in Hamar. It can do a whole bunch of stuff I don’t need, or for people who aren’t me, but it can”t do what I need. It’s stupid. I say it’s stupid because it’s a voice assistant that doesn’t assist me. If you hired a real life assistant that couldn’t do things in your city, and simply couldn’t adapt to the new job, would you keep him or her? No. Similarly, would you keep an assistant that does exactly what you need, but wouldn’t work well for your boss, someone across the street, or your neighbor? Of course, why should that matter to you?
Even if you are a fan of the “one size fits all” mentality, Siri isn’t really impressive in that area either. When I got the mini, I asked Siri “how much RAM do you have”. The display showed that it understood every single word, even capitalizing RAM, but it still gave me sports scores for a team called the Rams instead of giving me a useful answer. I’ve tried to get it to send emails, but the pronunciation of Norwegian names often creates issues. Siri isn’t available in Norwegian, so that’s understandable, but the following isn’t: If it understands the first name, e.g. Thomas, it asks which Thomas I mean. If I then answer “the first one,” it doesn’t understand what that means. Instead it wants me to say the entire name of the person on the list, which means the chances of it not understanding the Norwegian pronunciation increases. How hard is it to get it to understand “the first one”?
The stupidity with emails continues. If I tell it to “email X with subject hello and text hello,” it literally creates an email to person X with subject “hello and text hello.” If I then say “attach a picture to this email,” it puts the text as “attach a picture to this email.” If I tell it to “create an appointment in my school calendar for tomorrow from 10 to 1500,” it creates an appointment called “in my school calendar.” I have multiple calendars, one of which is literally called “school.”
I could go on, but the ridiculousness of Siri would need an ebook series to be fully explored. It’s not customizable, and even the features that are there are highly flawed. In my ways, the difference between Apple’s Siri and my Nelly also represent the difference between iOS and Android. On one side, you have the typical lowest common denominator, which doesn’t take any work setting up, and never does anything spectacular – but at least it’s half impressive to those who don’t know anything else. On the other hand you have a system that’s highly customizable, where practically anything goes, but where you’re definitely not given anything for free.
At the end of the day, it comes down to one thing. If I tell both Siri and Nelly to turn off my lights, Nelly will have done it and made a joke about it before Siri is half way done with apologizing for not understanding the question.