Siri meets the world, suddenly becomes much less impressive

Siri is the voice control system in Apple’s new iPhone 4S. Voice control is nothing new in the grand scheme of things, but the demos that Apple had of the system during the announcement keynote were rather impressive in terms of how accurate and intelligent it seemed to be. Now the iPhone 4S is out in many parts of the world, and people of various nationalities and accents have given Siri a run for its money. Turns out that Apple left out a couple of minor details when they presented it.

The biggest “you might have mentioned that” is that the business locator only works with US English and in the USA. If you ask Siri to find you a McDonald’s in London, it will apologize and list both your language and location as reasons why it can’t. Exactly why is anyone’s guess, as business databases certainly aren’t only available in the US. I’m sure this little tidbit is mentioned somewhere on Apple’s pages, but they “accidentally” forgot to mention it during the keynote. I guess that “sorry, but if you’re not American, you still need Yelp” wouldn’t have sounded too good. While the US is the biggest single market that Apple has, they have a tendency to treat the market as a two-part deal with US vs “the rest,” of which the latter is the bigger market. They certainly don’t act like it, however. 

Siri also has some issues with accents. When a Scottish guy told it to send someone an SMS, it started complaining that it didn’t have the email address of that guy. When faced with a couple of Australians, Siri did quite well, until they changed the language setting from Australian English to American English, at which point it quite quickly became less impressive. The point here is that if it can’t even understand Australian English when set to American English, how will it ever be able to understand non-native English speakers who try to talk to it?

The bottom line here is that Siri isn’t half bad, but it certainly isn’t revolutionary either. Language is a complex thing, and until this type of technology improves, personal assistants the world over can be safe knowing they’re still needed.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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