Why is Siri in beta?

Why was Siri, the iPhone 4S intelligent assistant, launched as a beta, something very unusual for Apple? Benoit Maison published a blog post which might just explain the reason.

I worked on speech recognition with IBM Research for nearly six years. We participated in DARPA-sponsored research projects, field trials, and actual product development for various applications: dictation, call centers, automotive, even a classroom assistant for the hearing-impaired. The basic story was always the same: get us more data! (data being in this case transcribed speech recordings). There is even a saying in the speech community: “there is no data like more data“. Some researchers have argued that most of the recent improvements in speech recognition accuracy can be credited to having more and better data, not to better algorithms.

While some may think it was not in Apple's best interest to release something so rough around the edges, getting millions of users on Siri might just be the best, fastest way to get it polished. (That and those extra people Apple is putting on the Siri team.)

Source: Benoit Maison

Jared DiPane

Jared is based in the US and writes for CrackBerry.com, Android Central, and TiPb. When not being a geek on his phone he loves to fish -- especially deep-sea fishing,

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There are 14 comments. Add yours.

dgalanter says:

She is in beta because as yet she cannot make me a sandwich.

Chris Franzen says:

there is a reason for beta testing after all. Glad Apple is FINALLY joining the public beta test party. Only years and years late.

Wayne Williams says:

Come on guys, you don't actually expect an AI and voice recognition system like Siri or something else to NOT be in a Beta state, right?

Petzfla says:

Lol that's why I love this site take a crap story and spin it lol getting millions of users on it is the best way to get it polished I like Siri when it works

Dev says:

This is the entire philosophy behind open source development -- "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." Release early, release often, and use the huge public feedback loop to drive refinements and further development. Google has been mocked in these pages (by commenters, not so much by Rene) for allowing OS warts into the open, but that is (chuckle) by design. The progress has not always been pretty, but it has allowed Android make amazingly rapid strides towards catching up with iOS.
As the linked "Siri is Apple's Broken Promise article explains, a Beta Siri is an issue for Apple not because they shouldn't use a public feedback loop to develop Siri iteratively, but that they have always positioned themselves as a purveyor of devices where such use of the public is unnecessary. Apple deserves this reputation, in my experience -- their internal QA is outstanding -- but Siri's Beta release goes against two decades of corporate culture and customer expectations.
Still, I think Apple has made the right call in releasing it publicly; I think they should go further, and open it up to iPhone 4s as soon as they believe they have the necessary server capacity to get even more data. They did screw up, however, in making something "Beta" the central part of their marketing message; once you do that, you lose a lot of forgiveneess/leeway from customers. It may not have any effect whatsoever on their overall brand reputation, but it could also result in some consumers no longer trusting Apple's "it just works" message.

Alex Harker says:

I truly think that Apple had an iPhone 5 nearly ready and was counting on releasing that during the summer as usual. It wasn't quite perfect for some reason so they talked iOS5 and iCloud during the summer and pushed things back to the fall. Again, something must have not quite been right so they put some better guts into the existing iPhone casing and added the half-baked Siri and slapped a beta tag on it. I don't think they wanted Siri to be released for another year or more but their hands must have been tied, not shipping a 2011 iPhone model would be taking a loss of revenue on the order of billions of dollars.

Tilk says:

When Apple advertises the 4s and siri at no time do they say that its in beta and it might not work properly. They says its great and wants me to buy it. Why does every one say its in beta when an apple product has a few glitches.

SSM says:

On their website, it still says Siri is in beta

CBMem says:

I don't think Apple should be let off the hook for this. When you make a feature a selling point of the device, and at the center of your marketing of the device, it's not a 'beta' feature at all--it's a "production feature" that's just buggy and incomplete. Of course, Apple couldn't call it THAT.

Not says:

Why is this any surprise to anyone? How does a human being learn to speak and understand a language? You're not born with the fluent ability... yet. ;) So, why should it be any different for a computer? We need past history for speaking and hearing a language to know and understand it, so should a computer. It's the same concept people.

SSM says:

I never thought of it like this. That's a good analogy.

lloydpearsoniv says:

It's beta, but it's a pretty damn good beta. The OSX FaceTime app was also Beta a year ago when it was released, but for some reason nobody remembers this.

E$F says:

She in beta cause she can't get Gators bitches to an abortion clinic. And Gator don't play dat shit

EagleyeSmith says:

I like what Siri does, I just don't her voice.