Siri, or Sorry?

I waited three years to upgrade to the iPhone 5. One of the features causing me grief is Siri – what Apple calls “the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done just by asking. It allows you to use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. But Siri isn’t like traditional voice recognition software that requires you to remember keywords and speak specific commands. Siri understands your natural speech, and it asks you questions if it needs more information to complete a task.”

I do like the thought of my very own assistant to fetch and carry at my command. In practice, however, Siri is more flawed than a hero in a Greek tragedy. This is what happens:

  1. It misunderstands simple commands and I suddenly find myself hollering at my brand new phone. Clearly I cannot ask Siri for anything while I am in a library or in a similarly hushed environment. I repeat my question. Several times. Then I have to delete Siri’s random and ridiculous responses. I once exasperatedly told Siri it was an idiot. The voice replied, ‘But … but.’ I was impressed. How could the voice have been perfectly programmed for such a life-like splutter? The second time I called Siri an idiot, the reply was as soothing as a Vicks chest rub: ‘I try my best, Mia.’ I felt bad after that – I had offended its feelings. I never called Siri an idiot again.
  2. Siri can fool me into thinking it is Aladdin’s genie. But sometimes, it simply tells me it doesn’t understand. The illusion of a Jeeves glued to my hip is thus cruelly shattered.
  3. As I pick up the shards of broken illusion, I realise that Siri only works when it understands Anglo-Saxon names and very simple “foreign” ones.  I told it to call “Lin Cheng” for me and the voice dutifully repeated, “Call Beijing, China.’ Then it added, “Sorry, Sau-maya, I can’t call restaurants in China.”
  4. Annoyed, I said my name was “Saumya”, but Siri simply couldn’t reproduce my name. I finally told it to call me “Mia”. The British male voice solemnly reassured me it would.
  5. I decided to change my settings and opted for the American female but she couldn’t understand my accent at all. I switched to Australian English but without significant improvement in success rates and the Canadian English voice was simply like a stern teacher. Would it have been any better with an Indian or a Jamaican Siri instead? Incidentally, I tried out the French and Italian Siri, and what a difference a language makes … it’s not fair – why do the British male and female voices sound so middle-aged and the “Continentals” so beguiling?
  6. I asked Siri about the weather in London and it said the day would be dry. I didn’t take my umbrella outdoors. It rained.

At the Apple store the young English assistant sheepishly confided that Siri didn’t understand his accent, either and that it was still quite hit-or-miss with the voice recognition function.

So, until they fix the bugs, perhaps Siri should be “Sorry” instead?

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