The Siri hysteria
Siri launched on the iPhone 4S to mixed reactions. Some loved it, while others found it everything from “pointless” to “highly flawed”. If the idea was to introduce voice commands to smartphones (key word introduce) then Siri for the most did the trick as people started using Siri for a number of commands (and yes, conversing with their phones). However if the aim of Siri was to provide a smart, precise, and very accurate voice command system, then Siri comes with a its fair share of flaws at this stage. Furthermore people seem to be unsure whether Siri is a cutting edge piece of innovation in BETA mode to be further refined across consecutive releases and will be integrated into all Apple products much later, or whether it’s a incomplete invention which may fizzle out. I’m inclined to say that voice enabled technology is here to stay, and that Siri is more than likely to go through a set of further refinements with consecutive releases.
As this article states: “Siri, the know-it-all speaking digital assistant built into the latest iPhone, is causing a bit of a stir. Since its launch in October, iPhone owners have asked Siri all manner of silly questions, sharing her sometimes hilarious responses on websites, blogs and social networks.
Here’s an example:
“What’s the meaning of life, Siri?” “I don’t know, but I think there’s an app for that.”
And my favourite: “Where them hoes at?” “The strip club isn’t far from you,” she answers, before helpfully opening a map showing the location of said establishment.
So it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before iPhone owners would start asking, “Siri, what’s the best smartphone?”
Imagine their chagrin when she answered: “The Nokia Lumia 900.”
It didn’t take long for Siri to realise the error of her ways though. She now answers with “The one you’re holding,” or “You’re kidding, right?”, prompting much online mirth.
Nokia, however, seems to have lost its sense of humour, accusing Apple of tampering with Siri’s programming to give a biased answer.
They have a point. It may come as a surprise to some iPhone owners, but Siri doesn’t come up with such responses on her own. She relies on third-party search services to find the answers.”
I’ve read countless articles and comments by users, and there seems to be a constant pattern of people complaining that Siri isn’t accurate by any means. It works for very simple commands, but the level of intelligence that people perhaps expected from Siri doesn’t seem to be there yet.
However since then, there has been number of controversies around Siri too. Firstly, a lawsuit around false advertising in relation to Siri has been filed.
The suit alleges:
“Through an extensive and comprehensive nationwide marketing campaign, Defendant has conveyed the misleading and deceptive message that the iPhone 4S’s Siri feature, a so-called voice-activated assistant, performs useful functions and otherwise works as advertised.
“For example, in many of Apple’s television advertisements, individuals are shown using Siri to make appointments, find restaurants, and even learn the guitar chords to classic rock songs or how to tie a tie. In the commercials, all of these tasks are done with ease with the assistance of the iPhone 4S’s Siri feature, a represented functionality contrary to the actual operating results and performance of Siri.”
Apple has filed a response to a group of class-action suits claiming the company falsely advertised the abilities of the Siri voice-activated digital assistant in its iPhone 4S, countering that the plaintiffs’ claims are vague, incomplete, and “highly individualized.”
The iPhone maker, which filed its motion to dismiss the consolidated class action complaints with a federal court in Oakland, Calif. on May 10, also questions why none of the claimants availed themselves of Apple’s 30-day return policy despite saying they “became dissatisfied with Siri’s performance ‘soon after’ purchasing their iPhones.”
Since then a new report quotes a former Apple employee as saying that people at the company are “embarrassed by Siri” and late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs would have “lost his mind” over the feature’s performance.
IBM has also banned Siri with the allegation that Siri maybe sending personal data to Apple HQ. Users’ voice commands are stored at a data centre in Maiden, North Carolina, according to Wired, and once they have been downloaded there are few restrictions on what Apple can do with them.
While the revelation that the firm is storing such intimate data may come as a shock to some iPhone users, the seemingly sinister process is clearly outlined in the phone’s licence agreement.
The agreement, to which all users must sign up, reads: ‘When you use Siri or Dictation, the things you say will be recorded and sent to Apple in order to convert what you say into text.’
While IBM seems to be worried that Apple will be gaining commercial advantage over them with Apple being able to see how IBM employees use Siri, from a product perspective, this makes sense to me. With each command that Siri recognizes (and gets “right” or “wrong”) it’s essentially storing that data to refine Siris algorhithim so it’s much more defined (which makes sense). This is similar to how Google refines its search algorhithim based on queries coming in to offer users a much more accurate search query.
As this article states: “Using query data to “learn” and improve the service is not new, and it’s not unique to Apple. Google maintains a similar policy of collecting and storing data in order to refine and improve its search capabilities. Is IBM also going to ban Web searches using Google? Not likely.
As advanced as Siri is when it comes to understanding conversational phrases and translating them to specific tasks or searchable queries, there’s plenty of room for improvement. By gathering and analyzing the cumulative whole of Siri input and output, Apple can refine the service so that it will be able to comprehend and respond to an increasingly wide range of conversational requests.”
However competition is certainly hotting up in this space, and I believe if Siri improvements aren’t quick, that leaves room open for another competitor to get the concept much more accurate to begin with which it looks like Samsung is doing. Samsung’s S Voice, an extremely similar voice-activated mobile assistant that will make its retail debut with the Galaxy S III early next week. In anticipation of that time, I’ve brought the two together for a side-by-side comparison to determine which performs better at the daily tasks one might wish to entrust to a robot-voiced virtual assistant.
The first thing to say is that neither Siri nor S Voice is particularly good. Both demand that you enunciate studiously if you care to have your query recognized, and even then some hilarious misinterpretations can and do occur. That’s a big stumbling block for any piece of software that aims to streamline your user experience with a smartphone — if you have to repeat or correct yourself, you might as well use more conventional means to achieve your goal. Similarly, both Siri and S Voice have a tendency to rely on external search engines for their results, sometimes integrating them in stub form within the app and sometimes throwing you out to a Google search. S Voice does the latter quite a bit more often than Siri does.
This article does a fair comparison between the two and draws the conclusion: “Taken in totality, I would say that S Voice offers a very good approximation of what Siri adds to the iPhone — helping you take notes, look things up, schedule meetings, or check the weather — but that extra functionality isn’t yet useful or polished enough to make these voice assistants a real selling point for new phones.”
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that Siri is the start of voice-recognition enabled commands. Nuanca (the company that powers Apples Siri) is making its natural language command platform available to automotive manufacturers with Dragon Drive. Vehicles equipped with Dragon Drive will enable drivers to use spoken commands to get the system to perform a range of tasks, including open-ended conversational text messaging, getting directions to restaurants, or finding traffic information.. The notion of voice-recognition enabled commands is just starting from Smart phones to Smart TV’s (Samsung’s 2012 premium Smart TV line are powered by Nuance’s unique Dragon voice technology) This could also mean a revolution for the remote control if this catches across TV’s as the article further states: “The power and simplicity of voice integration as part of a TV interface is clear the moment you sit back and speak to your TV,” said Michael Thompson, senior vice president and general manager, Nuance Mobile. “Working together, Nuance and Samsung are demonstrating how voice truly transforms the digital living room experience.”
Nuance’s voice technologies complement the evolving digital TV experience that Samsung is pioneering with its 2012 lineup of Smart TVs featuring Voice Control as a part of its Smart Interaction offerings. By providing consumers with the ability to control basic TV functions via simple voice commands, Nuance’s technology helps Samsung Smart TVs deliver a seamless and smarter way for consumers to control their TV.”
Apple has since done a series of quirky TV ads focusing on Siri, of which I quite like the latest John Malkovich, however I’m now imminently waiting to see how Siri plays out on consecutive devices. I personally used Siri a bit when I first got the iPhone 4S but the lack of reliability (and perhaps patience on my end) meant that I used it less and less. However with more accuracy and speed, voice-recognition to enable commands is 100% something I’d use more and more across multiple devices. Also as I’ve said at a few conferences and events, the notion of what Siri offers isn’t entirely new. Remember “clap-enabled” lights in your living room where you walk in, clap your hands twice, and the lights come on? With any “smart” device, voice-recognition enabled commands (when 100% working efficiently) could make things a lot easier.
There are no doubt logistics to iron out e.g if voice-recognition enabled commands like Siri work across multiple devices and the TV and phone are close by, are they both going to rush to answer? Will the TV answer before the phone? However as far as the technology is concerned, I think this idea will certainly get further refined and defined in days to come.
Prashant Harish Hari