Siri doesn’t like me. Or maybe she just doesn’t understand me. Regardless, it’s not really working out between us.
A few months ago, I made the leap from Blackberry to iPhone. It’s been an easy and gratifying transition, everything I’d hoped for — the intuitive design, the enhanced browser experience, the endless variety of apps. Even the highly temperamental keyboard, my primary concern, has been easier than expected to manage.
But there’s this lingering issue with Siri, the most hyped new feature of the 4S. Siri was by no means the reason I converted to iPhone, but I was certainly intrigued by the possibilities of this highly touted “virtual assistant.” On Apple’s web site, Siri is introduced with great promise (gender neutral, by the way): It understands what you say. It knows what you mean. It has so much to tell you.
Well, not so much. At least not for this guy. Granted, I wasn’t expecting HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but thus far, I’ve been underwhelmed by my robotic-toned assistant. Sure, it’s helpful when you ask for a weather report or your calendar of appointments for the next day. Siri will also make emails and phone calls for you, which is nice, but be real careful the way you pronounce someone’s name. If your request is misinterpreted, you may accidently call someone who you have no desire to speak with (or does not wish to speak to you) at 11:00 pm on Saturday. Or any day — ever. So if you have the 4S, I recommend you clean up your Outlook contacts at least once a month before commanding Siri to make your next call.
It’s also clear that Siri is not a sports fan. Last week, I asked who won the Super Bowl — just to test if she’d been paying attention. What I got was a financial chart, of sorts. As I looked closely, I realized it was a recent history of South Korean currency against the U.S. dollar. The South Korean currency is the won, not to be mistaken with won, as in “The Giants won the Super Bowl.” Now you can see why I’m ready to give Siri the silent treatment.
But maybe I’m the problem. Could it be that Siri just needs more time to get acclimated to my voice? In Apple’s demo video, someone asks how many ounces in a pound. No problem. Siri answers in a snap. I ask the same question in my nasally monotone, and what do I get? “Sorry. I do not have the answer to that.” If she responds more enthusiastically to melodic, resonant tones, then I can see why she has been so standoff-ish.
Regardless, I’ll just have to be more patient and master the appropriate etiquette of conversing with a voice recognition system. The other day I decided to try and break the ice. “Siri, tell me a little about yourself,” I asked. This is what I got: “I’m just a humble virtual assistant.” Next question: “Siri, where are you from?” Answer: “Like it says on the box. I was designed by Apple in California.” Okay, progress. But then I delve onto what she thinks of Steve Jobs, and her retort is: “I really couldn’t say.” Hmmm. Are you hiding something from us, Siri? Maybe you’re privy to those FBI files that caused a stir last week?
One saving grace is that Siri does demonstrate a bit of humor — like when I thank her and she says, “Your wish is my command.” But that’s as much nuance as I expect from my trusty voice-in-a-box. Maybe the next generation Siri will come loaded with a hint of irony, sarcasm, and empathy. And as an added bonus, a healthy dose of intuition. Can you just imagine if she was like the Robot on Lost in Space. You know, warn me of impending trouble ahead. “Danger, Bryan Harris, Danger!”
That would be wonderful, but it’s wishful thinking. For now, I’ll just try to find a comfort zone with Siri – rely on her for weather reports, where to find the best beer gardens in Brooklyn, check on my calendar for the day. And maybe I can get her to follow the Knicks. Even she can’t ignore Jeremy Lin.