The Siri Backlash Is Here

The feature that wowed tech bloggers upon the iPhone 4S's debut, is no longer getting much praise.

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The feature that wowed tech bloggers upon the iPhone 4S's debut, is no longer getting much praise. When the latest iPhone was announced, The Wirecutter's Brian Lam called Siri, "game changing"; New York Times Bits Blog's Sam Grobart found it "amazing;" and his Times colleague David Pogue lauded it as "crazy good, transformative, [and] category-redefining." Less than two months later, the bud is off the rose for Apple's "personal assistant" app. Welcome to the Siri backlash.

Last week's abortion "glitch" was the latest in a series of embarrassments for Apple's bot. Apple apologized(-ish) for the issue, but the half-hearted statement and unchanged software has yet to quell the anger. The criticisms still continue via petitions , including one at that got over 30,000 signatures in 48 hours, petition author Nita Chaudhary told CBS News. Unfortunately, the abortion-query problem is just a micro representation of a macro problem: Siri just doesn't work that well. Gizmodo's Mat Honan puts it well:

Siri is very much a half-baked product. Siri is officially in beta. Go to Siri's homepage on, and you'll even notice a little beta tag by the name.

I'm sorry. Beta? Beta is for Google. When Apple does a public beta, it usually keeps it out of the hands of the, you know, public. It typically makes you go get betas. It doesn't force them on you, much less advertise them. Not that it is an effective disclaimer for the vast buying public. For most people who see Apple's ads, and buy iPhones, the word beta means nothing at all. It might be a fish, or a college bro.

That speech recognition is the most obvious example of that beta. Siri's most common reply to me is that "it didn't quite get that." Is this due to my (very slight!) southern accent? Is it because I mumble? I don't know, but I do know that my Nexus rarely failed to understand me in the ways Siri does.

Honan's frustrations aren't unique. The Apple Forums are full of people claiming that Siri doesn't understand accents or Siri just not working. And don't forget the mass outage in early November. Siri fails a lot— and not just when it comes to heated topics like abortion.

But even if Siri does work to her fullest potential, the bot hasn't been fully embraced by everyone. Talking to a phone is kind of ridiculous and at the very least disruptive, The New York Times's Nick Wingfield pointed out over the weekend:

“How is he doing question mark how are you doing question mark,” Jeremy Littau of Bethlehem, Pa., found himself telling his new iPhone recently as he walked down the street, dictating a text message to his wife, who was home with their newborn. The machine spoke to him in Siri’s synthesized female voice.

Passers-by gawked. “It’s not normal human behavior to have people having a conversation with a phone on the street,” concluded Mr. Littau, 36, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University.

Siri dictations make one look like a crazy person, Wingfield suggested. The commenters agreed. "On the morning of Thanksgiving, I saw a lone Williamsburg hipster on a deserted street telling his phone, with increasing insistence and volume, 'I'm hungry,'" wrote commenter Jason K., for example.

Given that Apple is pushing Siri so hard -- the iPhone 4S commercials focus on the magic of Siri -- it's not good news that its prize, and apparent future of TV, no longer looks too shiny. Apparently Apple's sales success had a lot to do with the bot. Then again, maybe it doesn't matter: Millions of iPhones have already been purchased. And like Apple said they will "find places where we can do better."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.