The latest iPhone commercials feature John Malkovich playing around with Siri. But that's it. He's just being his weird self with the bot, using it as a form of entertainment, rather than a useful tool. In one of the two spots, he asks for the weather, but other than that all of his other interactions are for laughs, unlike the early Siri ads, which portrayed regular people getting real use out of the supposedly life changing personal assistant. But people don't use Siri in the way Apple first expected, so now we're getting a different genre of commercial.
Sure, iPhone owners use Siri for some practical stuff, like setting up appointments and sending texts, as this data in The Wall Street Journal showed. But a lot of Siri use is for jokes; she's fun to laugh at -- and even Apple's starting to get that.
Comparing the first round of Siri promos with the latest set of celebrity endorsed clips, we definitely see an evolution in how Siri is used. Let's take a look at Rock God, one of the seven advertisements Apple put out last fall.
Here we see our protagonist ask Siri practical questions, which she (mostly) answers. Things like "How do I play a B Minor 9th?" and "Add migraine headache to my list of band names." The bot obliges. At this point, Apple wanted to show people Siri's potential to organize their lives.
The Malkovich ads show a different relationship between human and Siri. In this first one Malkovich, in what could be a scene from Being John Malkovich, says "life." Then he waits. Siri responds with a definition from Wolfram Alpha, or wherever.
That is not practical; that is a practical joke. Malkovich smirks after he hears her deadpan response to an obviously deep question. In the other video, Malkovich laughs outloud at Siri at one point. Here Siri is not a personal assistant, it's someone to talk to. But, it's not exactly a friend, it's more like a that token foreign exchange student we see in comedies whom the English-speaking kids try to get to say dirty words. Siri is fun to laugh at, not with.
Apple, in part, has gone in this creative direction to play off the celebrity of Malkovich, who has a notorious dark sense of humor. The Malkovich spot follows two others released earlier this year one featuring Zooey Deschanel, Queen of the Twee, and the other all around badass Samuel L. Jackson. Both of those commercials play off these stars' personae as well. Deschanel dances to some old timey music in pajama's after asking for a bowl of tomato soup, for example. These characters are parodying themselves. But the ad also parodies Siri, channeling that Funny or Die argument video or the countless other jokes about talking to a very literal robot.
Apple's motives go beyond comedic effect. In those early commercials Siri looked too practical. So practical that Apple's even getting sued for misleading one iPhone owner, who hoped she could do more. Siri doesn't work like that because Siri is not really a personal assistant. Most people use it for iPhone things, as that data showed, like texting and making phone calls. So beyond that, Siri's main use is comedy. It is a robot that doesn't understand everything, and takes some things so literally that it's funny. At this point, those first ads are misleading. But with these latest, it looks like Apple's starting to get the joke.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.