Apple is hiring an analyst, but not just any old analyst. It’s hiring someone to sift through the social media hellscape and parse just how customers really feel about its voice assistant Siri.
The posting went live on March 1 and was initially reported by VentureBeat. In it, Apple says it’s looking for someone to create and oversee a “program to monitor what the world is saying about Siri through social media, news, and other sources; then provid[e] product analysis and recommendations to stakeholders and leadership.” It also specifies part of the job is “understanding the world zeitgeist sentiment of Siri” and report back findings to the Siri team leadership, along with recommendations on how Apple’s voice assistant can be improved.
This isn’t necessarily an official acknowledgment on Apple’s part that Siri bloody sucks. Nor does it indicate what Apple plans to do with Siri going forward. But, if all Apple’s looking for is someone to clearly and passionately articulate what people think about Siri, well look no further. I got you.
First off, while Apple’s walled garden approach may work for its family-friendly app store, it’s awful for the smart home. These days, plenty of Internet of Things (IoT) devices are compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s much harder to find a HomeKit compatible device—and Siri only works for devices with HomeKit enabled. And as anyone who’s ever tried setting up a HomeKit-friendly device knows, the setup process can be tricky. You either have to input a serial number, or scan a specific QR code included in the device manual. For example, I had a HomeKit-enabled smart plug that a friend gifted to me, except she had thrown away the booklet with the QR code and there was no serial number on the product. When it came time to download the app, I just couldn’t set up the device at all. All these reasons are why the HomePod utterly fails as a centralised smart home hub.
But smart home tech isn’t for everyone, and Siri’s limited ability to control devices isn’t the only thing holding it back. Of all the voice assistants, it’s the worst at answering simple queries and interacting with people.
To give you a clear example, while writing this blog I pitted Siri against Alexa and Google Assistant by asking a few simple questions. I asked all three who the Oscar winner for best actor in 2017 was—both Google Assistant and Alexa quickly told me it was Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. Siri just said, “Hmm I don’t know 2017” and sent me to look at Oscars.org for the answer. It took me rewording my query three times before Siri could answer reliably. Likewise, when I asked Siri for the nearest coffee shops, it could only give me one result when I know for fact there are at least three within a two block radius of my apartment. Google Assistant and Alexa both gave me four options each.
I didn’t have this problem with Alexa or Google Assistant. Screenshot: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)
Another issue is Siri is terrible at understanding names, especially if they’re not generic like John or Mary. It understood Mahershala Ali’s name as “Herschel Ali” and was saved by the fact that search algorithms are smart enough to recognise that “Herschel Ali” probably refers to the actor in question. Similarly, it could not recognise my query about Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, unless I spoke super slowly. The first time Siri tried to text a friend of mine named Carly. Cool, except I hadn’t asked Siri to text anyone.
Speaking of texting or calling, I tried to text my editor to tell him that he is very cool. A nice gesture, except Siri’s proficiency at natural language understanding, is garbage. Saying something like, “Hey Siri, text Mario that he is very cool” should not result in “Which one?” and pull up a list of contacts with names that sound vaguely similar, like Marie and Maria. Siri’s also a too matter-of-fact, leaving me a text that reads “He is very cool.” It’s an understandable gaffe, but forcing people to rewire the way they talk makes what should be a convenient option really annoying. Alexa can be pretty clunky at this too, but Google Assistant really has the whole natural language thing down. The same exact query to Google Assistant on my phone resulted in a text saying “You are very cool”—and it didn’t have trouble figuring who I wanted to text either. It might seem small but added up over multiple queries and the extra second of re-thinking my wording becomes a major hassle. Especially if I don’t have to do it with other voice assistants.
Google Assistant is just much better at natural language. Screenshot: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)
Lastly, half the time Siri just craps out on you. I just upgraded my iPhone to the XS Max and during setup, I laughed at the prompt to enable the “Hey Siri” command. Why not? Maybe I’ve been too harsh on Siri, I thought. While trying to ask Siri questions for this blog on my new phone, Siri crashed about 10 times. And it’s not just me. Do a Google search and you’ll find a trove of internet content explaining all the ways in which Siri just plain sucks.
So maybe one day, whoever gets this job can help Apple make Siri into something that doesn’t waste space on my iPhone. Until then, I plan on installing a Siri shortcut that redirects to Google Assistant. [Apple via Venture Beat]
Featured image: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)