Siri six months later: Community report card

Siri six months later: Community report card

Siri, the iPhone 4S' flagship feature has been on the market now for 6 months. On one hand, Siri is absolutely amazing -- the first real virtual personal assistant with a personality right out of Pixar. On the other hand, Siri is obviously still in beta and often fails or works just enough to frustrate more than any outright failure. That makes it an odd choice for a flagship feature, but given the lack of a physical redesign and the obvious potential for awesome demos, rightly or wrongly, Siri was what Apple had to work with.

But does it work for us?

Survey says: Siri usage is low

iMore is an iPhone enthusiast site, so our community is predisposed to adopt new features quickly and use them extensively. Yet Siri usage among the iMore nation remains curiously low. As of today, with over 4000 votes cast, nearly 50% of our readers seldom, if ever, use Siri.

That's... astonishing. Here's the full break down:

  • Almost 5% use Siri often, many times a day.
  • Over 15% use Siri frequently, on a daily basis.
  • Roughly 23% use Siri infrequently, at least several times a week
  • Nearly 50% almost never use Siri, monthly or less.
  • Just over 7% might use Siri, but it's not yet available in their native language.

Taken together, only 20% of our iPhone 4S users are using Siri on anything approaching a regular basis. That leaves 80% using it irregularly at best, and 50% barely using it at all.

This in spite of Apple showcasing Siri during the iPhone 4S introduction, putting it front and center on Apple.com, and making Siri the focus of most of the iPhone 4S advertising. They gave it the iPhone event keynote. They gave it Santa. They gave it Samuel L. Jackson.

And still few of our readers are using it.

That's not unprecedented, of course. The 2010 iPhone 4 launch saw a lot of attention placed on Apple's video calling service, FaceTime. But it's still interesting.

Siri community commentary: six months later

Celebrity iPhone 4S Siri commercials hit the air with Samuel L. Jackson, Zooey Deschanel

So why are -- or mostly aren't -- you using Siri six months after it was introduced? Here's what you've told us:

I prefer dictation to Siri most of the time. Use Siri not quite everyday, but I think several times a week is still pretty often. Now my 5 year old thinks Siri is great, talks to her several times a minute when i let her.

Some of you in the US who think its bad should try Siri in the UK. It’s virtually useless. I’d love to ask Siri to locate the nearest pub or something, but we can’t even do that. Yes I know it’s in BETA, but I really had hopes they’d be releasing updates more frequently when I purchased my 4S to be perfectly honest.

It’s always down, or something else is wrong. Or it just hangs when I tell her to call someone. Kind of giving up on it. Needs a few more years of seasoning.

I’ve stopped differentiating between Siri and voice dictation, as I believe it is largely the same animal. Siri interaction is a bit more problematic, so I often leave Siri alone and then dictate directly within a given app. For appointments and reminders, I ONLY want to use Siri. I almost won’t set the calendar/reminder item until Siri is no longer “sorry.” So, I use it a good once a day, at least, if you consider the above under the same umbrella.

I use Siri daily.. with 90% success rate. I use it for meetings, reminders, appointments, looking stuff up, texting and calling. So easy to say call Wife at work and it is done.

Siri NEVER works for me. I'm always in full signal 3G or Wifi at work and home and it takes her at least 30 - 60 seconds and I get to frustrated and turn it off. I am not a fan.

I use Siri all the time. Reading, writing texts. Setting up reminders, making and editing notes, getting directions (navacon), toggling Bluetooth, wifi, flashlight etc... I'd be lost if I couldn't talk to my phone.

I use Siri for reminders. The few times I've tried using it to send a text while driving I've gotten so frustrated I could have just as easily been texting. The whole idea is to to not take your mind off the road.

I still use Siri and it is very helpful. As I stated in another thread, I use if primarily to text & respond to text messages while driving, set reminders, look up information and to dial contacts for me. I have never asked it frivolous questions and it did not factor in to my reason for buying my iPhone 4S. Could it be better? Heck yeah. Do I depend on it? Absolutely not. I've had a smartphone or a PDA phone for so long and I'm so used to doing things manually that I forget about Siri sometimes.

I use Siri everyday and every time Siri comes up I can't help thinking 3 things: 1. Why didn't we have this 10 years ago? 2. Why isn't this better? (Can't launch apps or modify settings) 3. How do people still "type" messages, it feels so archaic to type in 2012. It's great for reminders and meetings. Sending texts, timers for cooking or whatever it is you are doing. Why type???? I just don't get it besides being in an environment where you it wouldn't be appropriate to speak.

Deciphering the disuse and discontent

For a few readers Siri has become important or even quasi indispensable. (Some of our editors have even joked Siri has made them so lazy that, if it's unavailable, they'll wait rather than actually type out a text message...) However, for many more readers, Siri simply wasn't part of their iPhone usage pattern. Based on the feedback we've gotten, it seems the disuse or discontent with Siri can be broken down into a few categories.

  1. Some people just forget Siri is there. Siri is something new and new things don't always enter into, or find a place in, established workflows.
  2. Siri not working -- either because it doesn't understand certain accents, because the required network connection fails, or because it simply takes too long to respond -- causes enough frustration that some users simply abandon it and don't go back. How many people would use Google if searches routinely took 30 seconds or more to return?
  3. The inconsistent implementation -- ability to read texts but not emails, ability to launch some apps for specific functions but not simply launch an app, etc. -- creates an unpredictable or incomplete enough usability model that many simply exclude it entirely.
  4. The lack of timely and consistent updates from Apple -- only one new language in 6 months and no new features or integration -- creates a wait and see attitude that, so far, is still waiting but not seeing.
  5. The amount and type of Siri advertising creates expectations that the actual service (point #2) and support to date (point #4) don't live up to, leading to dissatisfaction.

There's also another alternative -- Siri is a new kind of interface meant for a new kind of user. iPhone sales numbers indicate it's the first smartphone to capture a predominantly mainstream audience. That audience isn't familiar with how smartphones historically worked, and something like Siri might ultimately prove more accessibly and less intimidating than a traditional app-launcher style interface. All of the factors listed above absolutely hurt Siri's chances of achieving that right now, but Siri could still achieve that in a future where it's both more reliable and more functional.

If that's the case, our iPhone enthusiast audience may never be the target for Siri, but the mainstream audience that is its target isn't using it, or isn't enjoying the use of Siri just yet.

Siri next steps

So six months later and Siri usage among iMore readers is low. What can be done to change that? The opposite of what we conjecture is causing it.

  1. There's not much more Apple can do to boost Siri awareness, given that it's already the centerpiece of their iPhone 4S advertising, and making Siri popup like Microsoft Assistant would cause most of us to throw our phones at a wall. They can't just make people more aware of Siri, they have to make Siri more usable.
  2. Improve Siri's ability to understand accents in the U.K. Since Siri claims to support U.K. English, supporting U.K. English is something important to do. No doubt the beta period, where Siri is fed more and more voice data, will help with that. Network connection issues are tougher. There's absolutely no excuse for Siri's servers on Apple's data centers to go down or even be slow to respond. Apple is rich enough to support the best technology and ensure among the best up times and availability in the business. Carrier connection problems. especially notorious in the U.S., are beyond Apple's ability to address unless/until they can put some base level of Siri functionality locally, on-device, as a fallback.
  3. Adding more well-rounded features may be non-trivial but is necessary to create consistency in the Siri experience. If text entry or basic navigation was different, or non-existent, from app to app, it would make the iPhone unusable (see early versions of Android). Siri working differently, or not working at all, with some core apps makes it likewise difficult to count on. Adding the basics like Settings toggles, app launching, email reading, etc. would increase consistency and also solve general iOS pain points. ("Siri, turn Bluetooth off!" alone would likely bolster usage considerably.)
  4. Roll out incremental updates. The power of online services is that they can be updated on the server-side, which means they're less disruptive and can be more frequent than larger software patches. Updates create confidence. Japanese was a great addition in iOS 5.1, but it was the only addition in 6 months and that's a long time.
  5. Obviously Apple isn't going to stop advertising Siri unless and until they have something just as compelling to replace it with, and they're not going to make it tell Zooey Deschenel it can't connect to the network when she wants to get her dance on. That's the cost of marketing based on a beta feature that sets expectations the product can't meet. Apple doesn't often do it, but they've done it in this case and they're stuck with it now.

No doubt Apple is working away on Siri, and adding Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and other languages is certainly non-trivial. Nothing about voice and context parsing is easy. Yet positioned the way it is, as the flagship feature of the iPhone 4S, Siri legitimately brings equal and opposite expectations down on Apple.

Conclusion

Six months later and a lot of you simply aren't using Siri. If you're one of them, let us know what Apple could do to get you on board. If you are using Siri, why do you think so many others aren't? The first developer betas for iOS 6 may be just around the corner, and the next generation iPhone 5,1 may just be on track for a fall release. What does Apple have to do to turn the corner on Siri and make it as mainstream and popular a feature as the iPhone itself?

Georgia contributed portions of this article

Image credit: iDoodle by Jason Harrison

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 42 comments. Add yours.

bsforever says:

Apple oversold it as a near JARVIS-level talking sentient AI in its ads, while labelling it as beta.
The reality however is different. In fact the quality of its recognition and accuracy has deteriorated in the last 6 months I've used it.

9thwonder says:

Siri works perfect for me 99% of the time i use it because i only ask it to do what i know it can do.

Ferny says:

My iPhone 4 was useful when it came to voice recognition. I could dial a number by saying the name of the entry and it worked every time (I honestly can't think of a time it didn't work). Now with Siri, I have yet to make this 4S brick understand a word I am saying. Apparently, Northern Midwest isn't a version of English that is compatible with Siri. I guess US English is Californian only.

iOS Gravity says:

It works for North Eastern English.

9thwonder says:

"why do you think so many others aren’t?"
I think some people are asking it to do what it wasn't designed to do. People trying to play a disc full of mp3 in a car cd player not designed to play mp3s. Maybe apple needs to include a tutorial. I'm sure others simply don't know how to use it to do what they want or have other issues like those accent problems you mentioned. And like you said some things like a network issue is the network's fault. I do think they should add some more functions to it like why can't i voice plot navigation point? That's rhetorical but point is i'd like to do it by voice when driving just like on Android. but there is lots of room for improvement in ios.

Dev says:

The entire selling point of Siri is that you do not have to know what it can or cannot do -- that it is intelligent enough to decipher your meaning from language and context. Otherwise, it is just a fancy dictation system and voice-activated dialer.
Most long-time tech users understand what you imply -- that the more you know about and tailor yourself to a device, the more you can get out of it. The problem is that Apple relentlessly markets Siri as something that does away with that paradigm, and understands you, rather than forces you to understand it. That's an enormous technical challenge, and one can hardly fault Apple for not fulfilling it 100%. But they need to bring their marketing more in line with the reality, if they do not want to spawn a round of disappointed users.

9thwonder says:

No that is YOUR selling point. That's now how it is sold. It is not marketed as a device that can do anything. It was sold as a device that can understand some naturally spoken language. It wasn't sold as a device that is artificial intelligence. Everything in apple commercial are one of about 12 things siri can do. It's setting an alarm, setting a date in a calender, setting a reminder, sending a text. That's what's said in the press conference, that's what's in the commercials, that's what in the documentation. You're merely grafting onto siri your own expectations not what they've sold it as.
People complaining that it doesn't so all the things you want it to do is like getting mad at Coke for saying "Coke will refresh your thirst on a hot day" only to find out that Coke is not the going to be a sole nutritional drink that you can rely on. I think it's lazy and naive. It's one thing to say it can't understand my accent. It's another to ask it to do what it was not designed to do or capable of doing then claiming they've somehow said it can do it. I've seen no commercial that with Apple claiming Siri can start my car or turn on my lights in my house or I'm not frustrated that it can't launch my Waze gps app cause i'm smart enough to read up on it and find out that it can't launch that app. People are just lazy and don't want to inform themselves and are hearing what they want to hear not what is said.

Dev says:

Nice try, but you seem to be responding to what you want me to have said, instead of what I said. My point had nothing to do with features that Siri can or cannot command. My point refers to the expectations Apple has set for how Siri performs the things it can in fact do.
Watch the ads again. "Is that rain?" "Let's get tomato soup delivered." "Find me a store that sells organic mushrooms for my risotto." "How do I get to Charlie Grant's house?" "How many ounces in a cup?"
These are not questions narrowly tailored for a machine to understand; the entire thrust of Apple's marketing is that you can speak conversationally to it, as you would to a person, and Siri can decipher what you meant, providing fast, accurate results. Siri performs that task well -- up to a point.
However, as the results of this very survey suggest, people's everyday experiences with Siri fall short of what is portrayed in the commercial. Whether the fault lies with network latency, funny accents, bad grammar, or background noise is ultimately besides the point; for perhaps the first time, Apple's ads are writing a check that the product cannot cash.
Nobody is going to be disappointed that Siri cannot control their toaster, and I never said they would be. People are disappointed that Siri cannot understand and answer their questions as quickly and accurately as portrayed by Zooey and Sam; that is what I meant when I said Apple needs to bring their marketing more in line with reality, if they want to avoid a smudge on their brand.

iMore-On says:

I am in the UK and have worked on the radio and have what is described as an 'accentless' voice. It should be easy for Siri to understand me and yet a good 70 per cent of the time it doesn't. Also, unlike competitors like Evi, it can't be used to find local services which is a big incentive to use it. To wait so long and still not have a slight update is unacceptable. Also, who do we have to have a male voice?

Jon says:

I use Siri several times a day. With more use, the more indispensable it becomes. I use it mainly for dictating emails and text messaging and setting up calendar events. If I need to search for something I still use Google though.

Jamie says:

Apple should make Siri be able to locate places in Canada...

MacBook Pro says:

Very good article that provides a well balanced approach to assessing the marquee feature of the Apple iPhone 4S. I was using Siri several times daily but my usage pattern has changed due to some life changes.
I believe there are some improvements Apple could make that would improve adoption of Siri as the revolutionary user interface:
Allow Siri to activate/deactivate key settings features, including; 3G data, Airplane Mode, App Store Updates, Bluetooth, LTE data (coming soon?), Software Updates, Wi-Fi, etc.
Allow Siri to search for addresses and directions as a interface for Maps (Placebase, Poly 9 and C3 Technologies based maps and directions).
Develop more APIs for app developers and improve integration with Apple apps such as "Apple Store," "Find Friends," "iTunes Store" and "iTunes Movie Trailers." A simple simple APIs that allow Siri to open apps, check-in (FourSquare, etc.) and update social status would create far more opportunities for Siri usage.
Create partnerships with more companies. Lack of partnerships is the primary reason Siri is of limited use outside of the United States.

jkeitz says:

Most importantly, they could add voice recognition to Siri. That would be a cool feature!

MRF says:

Siri works well enough (as well as Google's Voice Actions if not slightly better at dictation) for what it does. Sadly it doesn't do many of the things I want it to; as mentioned above change settings, launch programs, read emails...

sting7k says:

I think a lot of it is that people I see always ask Siri a question like they are searching for something but that's not really what it's supposed to do all the time. It's an assistant to accomplish tasks on the phone itself.
If you want something like that you should talk to IBM about releasing a Watson app.

9thwonder says:

Lots of people are complaining cause they expect a phone to basically be Hal from 2001 a space Odyssey or something.

MRF says:

I think people want it to be an advancement over the competing product that was released more than a year earlier (Google's Voice Actions) which sadly it isn't. All the fanfare aside Siri offers roughly the same functionality (less in some respects, more in others), not exactly spectacular for a company claiming to drive innovation.

MRPHATPAT says:

Well let's be honest with ourselves. It sucks. But because apple did it we try real hard to like it, make excuses for it, saying things like "oh it's beta". Point blank period it sucks. I use it only to show people how it works or to try to get Siri to say something funny and make me laugh. To date this is still the only thing related to iPhone that has been released as beta, they tagged it beta because it sucks. And thats if the "servers" are not busy and you can even use it at all. Just admit it people, lay off the kool aide. And it's been six months why is it still beta. The only company that waits that long to update stuff is Samsung.
I
Here's my honest opinion it's not beta its as good as it gets they call it beta because they know it's just a sailing point, it's cool, its apple.
F-that I can do without Siri just give a damn 4" screen. That littersally is all I need and I'm set.
My2cents

Bilbo Baggins says:

^^ What Master P said!!! ^^

MRPHATPAT says:

*selling point not sailing point.

Carioca32 says:

+1
Finally someone said what almost everybody knows deep inside.

Kane Peterson says:

I don't have an iPhone 4S, so I don't use Siri, but my co-worker has one and uses it from time to time. However, I notice that he has to ask it sometime 2 or 3 times before it will 'get' what he is asking it to do.
Another site note, another co-worker came to me saying that his iPhone crashed and didn't know how to reset the phone. I pulled out my Windows Phone and used the Bing Voice and just spoke 'iPhone reset' which is got correct on the first try (even spelled it iPhone!) and it came up with a search result with what to do. My other co-worker with the iPhone 4S said, thats great. He pulled out his phone asked the same thing, and Siri said it didn't understand....

jkeitz says:

I use Siri as a novelty, but never as a tool. Since it works so infrequently, I cannot rely on it. I certainly won't send a text with it unless I can append a message to the text that says "composed with Siri" so the recipient doesn't think I'm drunk. "I'll be home soon" goes out as "Bill is bald goon." If someone asks me a question, I'll pull out Siri to ask for the answer, because if it works it looks cool, and if it doesn't I didn't really need it anyway.

Leon says:

Siri works pretty much all the time for me, the big issue is I'm in the UK and without all the location look up stuff it's fairly limited which drives my usage downward. If Apple sorts that I'd happily use it again....

pablo says:

So let me get this straight, Apple releases Siri, it performs badly, and now the excuse is "On the other hand, Siri is obviously still in BETA and often fails or works just enough to frustrate more than any outright failure." Since when did Apple think that releasing a BETA version to the public was acceptable?

cardfan says:

But they compound that acceptable mistake by making it the cornerstone of all their marketing. For the first time, Apple is seriously marketing (misleading) a feature that underperforms overwhelmingly for most people.
"but given the lack of a physical redesign and the obvious potential for awesome demos, rightly or wrongly, Siri was what Apple had to work with."
I don't accept that. Were there no new features? Airplay mirroring? iCloud? iMessage? There's a lot of gee whiz stuff they could market and at least come off looking better than marketing (misleading) something that doesn't work. If Apple can't find anything compelling to market about their ecosystem, new things, etc, then they are in trouble. You can't tell me they exhausted all this in previous iphone marketing, which was all about apps.
And...why worry about the iphone 4S or differences from previous in particular? It's the iphone. I didn't think they were targeting iphone 4 users but the rest. Just market the iphone (remember, they're dropping the numbers). Why would you want one? What's great about the ecosystem?
As a result, Apple has stopped educating the masses. I talk to many who still don't understand what iCloud is. To this day, my wife couldn't tell you what imessage does any differently, it just turns blue is all. Airplay? Few know about it but are impressed seeing it in action. iTunes Match?

Phil says:

I only use Siri when I am driving, and it works great when I use it.

Techpotato says:

People forget that iPhone has built-in voice commands that work pretty good if you turn Siri off. I used Siri a lot until I turned it off when I went on vacation and couldn't use it. I haven't turned it back on
Now, voice dialing and playing music works much better and is more responsive. I can say "Play playlist classic rock" or "Play songs by Brad Paisley" and it works instantly. So does "Call the office" or "Call Helen, Mobile".
When I call a number that has commas in it (eg. numbers with extensions or other touch tones) it doesn't say "Calling Authorize Visa dollar sign car dollar sign".
Most of all, I NEVER get "I'm so sorry, Don. Something seems to be wrong.".
All of this actually works better on the 4S than on the 4 because of the faster processor.
Now if I could only get it to stop calling some ex girlfriend that i haven't talked to in 8 years when I ask it to play my workout playlist I would be happy.
I do really miss being able to add mayonnaise to my shopping list though.

Jon says:

For me, Siri is more hassle than function. It was fun to try it out at first like FaceTime, but it seemed to take longer than to just do the task myself. It also has seemed to be WORSE over time and things that it could look up months ago, it now asks if I want to do a web search. I also find that it is just plain awkward talking to your phone. I would rather manually type a text than talk to my phone and have people look at me funny. Most of my friends that have a 4S as well never use it either. I would be perfectly happy if Apple focused more on something else than to expand on Siri.

DarshOne says:

siri can sometimes work, when ur 10 ft from your router that is. using it in the car is worthless as the headphoes my iphone came with had a broken mic. i replaced them and siri is still worthless. consistently misunderstands my voice or cant connect to the network. ive been so frustrated while driving ive literally thrown the phone behind me and not cared. siri is a great case of false advertising and is nowhere near the advertised level of functionality. the only time i use it is when i am half asleep and ask it to wake me up in the morning.

Martin says:

You asked, "What does Apple have to do to turn the corner on Siri and make it as mainstream and popular a feature as the iPhone itself?"
Hey, let's ask Siri!

Martin says:

Oops! Sorry, she's busy.

scott says:

Don't have a 4S, but I do know people that do (my Mom is one of them) so I have had the chance to use it. YAWN. Another "magical" feature that falls flat. Is it just me, or does this look like another Apple desperation move to release a "new" phone. They had to have something to call the 4S new. Same phone, slightly better camera, slightly faster (like you can tell) so this was their "big gun". They had to have SOMETHING. And, they didn't do themselves any favors by releasing those ads that give the impression it is way faster than it is. When they went from the original to the 3G, it was a new phone. The 3G to the 3GS, had video, faster, and white! The 4 was a total rebuild, but keeping their cycle, we needed the updated version. What to do? And this brings us to a bigger problem. They are reaching a point where this is it. What else CAN they add? Same phone, bigger screen?? Same phone. Same phone, different color? Same phone. Siri has GREAT potential for future applications, but Apple being Apple, will they ever be realized? And, just for the record, I have a 4, had a 3G, wife has a 4, son has an iPod touch, iPad2, Macbook Pro, and an Airport Extreme.

sj1992 says:

i think Apple should have been updating siri in the past 6 months... adding location to all of the supported languages should have been done by now?? and tbh i think apple should of worked with the people who create the iPhone app evi, maybe buy them and get them to help apple improve so much....

Andre says:

Let's take a step back from Apple's execution of Siri and look whole premise of voice recognition. I've always thought that VR is one of those fantasies of yesterday's future—a staple of Sixties sci-fi that was bypassed by more efficient, less glamorous input methods in personal and mobile computing. What was novel and impressive about language processing, especially in the past, was that computers would actually be powerful enough to parse spoken thoughts. It never had to do with a better user experience.
I'm actually surprised that 20% of respondents use Siri, even infrequently. I've used it maybe half a dozen times before the novelty wore off. I never see anyone use Siri on the street, which lead me to believe that people only use it when they're stationary and have time to repeat themselves.

kr1114 says:

I use it all the time. For me personally I can compose text messages significantly faster than by hand and it is extremely handy for setting reminders. Good work Apple!

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