Friday 2 December 2011

My wife’s phone doesn’t understand me

A couple of months ago my wife upgraded her iPhone from a 3GS to a 4S. The three really noticeable differences are the flat, slab-like design, the detail and colour of the screen and, of course, Siri. I suspect that the S after the 4 is for Siri and not for speed, sport or snobbery.

So of course we’ve been doing what ever one with access to Siri does – see if it does what it claims. I say it because in the UK Siri is a man who sounds like a Radio 2 announcer. (For non-UK people, Radio 2 is a BBC Radio service aimed at those who listened to pop music stations 20 years ago and haven’t migrated to talk shows or culture.) Siri here is not the subservient female that caused such a rumpus in the US when she first came out, as it were. It would be very interesting to know why they made that decision.

First to try Siri out are, of course, the kids. Younger daughter and her friends found endless amusement in trying to get him to say things and had already heard most of the Easter eggs so they tried all those too. And Siri understood about half of it.

But for me, speaking normal, Siri just simply did not understand. In fact the results were positively comical. It was very frustrating, frankly, and if I wasn’t in the industry I’d have given up. I may be Scottish but I have very little accent, certainly nothing that should have caused problems.

Some perseverance and some research enabled me to replicate some of the known forms successfully. I was able to teach Siri that I was the husband and was able to call myself by saying “call my husband” into my wife’s phone. And I was able to add an appointment to the calendar. Pronouncing Cautiously In Carefully Composed Sentences Worked Quite Well.

However when it came to more general queries, nada. The recognition of generic terms was significantly worse than Google Voice Search, for example.  Apple have done their usual thing of creating a protected environment where things they consider you likely to say work reasonably well but outside of that you’re on your own. At least Siri doesn’t say that generic queries violent your terms and conditions.