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
So why are -- or mostly aren't -- you using Siri six months after it was introduced? Here's what you've told us:
- Cody Hahn
- Chris Flowers
- Dave D
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
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
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you want something like that you should talk to IBM about releasing a Watson app.
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.
Finally someone said what almost everybody knows deep inside.
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....
"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?
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.
Hey, let's ask Siri!
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.