by Al Sacco

Sorry Siri, I Just Don’t Want to Converse with My iPhone

Oct 31, 20115 mins
AppleiPhoneMobile’s Al Sacco is impressed with Apple’s new iPhone, but the new voice-activated “Siri” feature could prove to be more annoyance than assistance. Here’s why.

A while back, I wrote a post detailing 12 obnoxious/goofy/clueless/etc. types of cell phone users that drive me mad. Today, I have another stereotype to add to that list, and it may be the most annoying mobile character of all: the Siri Slave. This is the person who constantly uses Apple’s new artificial intelligence engine in the iPhone, regardless of their surroundings or whether or not it would be easier to simply use their hands.


In case you’re embarrassingly out of touch with the smartphone world—or simply have better things to do than monitor every new device launch—“Siri” is a new feature on Apple’s shiny new iPhone 4S. And it basically lets you talk to your phone to perform a variety of functions, including sending messages, scheduling meetings, placing phone calls, and more. (Find more details about Siri on Apple’s website.)

Sounds cool, right? Star-Trek-esque, if you will?

Sure, but remember “The Clapper?” That funky “futuristic” mechanism you plugged into an electrical outlet to turn on/off lights/etc? That sure seemed revolutionary when it showed up on TV in the mid-80s…but sometimes it just makes more sense to flip a light switch than stand around clapping in the dark.

I own an iPhone. And a Mac. And numerous iPods. In fact, I will very likely upgrade my long-in-the-tooth iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4S in the not so distant future… but not so I can use that silly Siri app.

From Apple:

“Siri. Your wish is its command…It understands what you say… It knows what you mean. It helps you do the things you do every day…. It has so much to tell you…iPhone 4S takes dictation….It’s like you’re having a conversation with your iPhone.”

And that’s the problem. I don’t even like talking to most people. I hardly ever use my phone for phone calls. And I definitely don’t want to have a conversation with my damn smartphone.

I’ve tried products like Siri, including Vlingo, Edwin, Speaktoit and various Dragon products from Nuance. Some work. Some work well. Some work really well, for specific purposes. And some really don’t work at all.

But the point is that sometimes it’s just easier to write a text message with your hands; sometimes it makes more sense to wait until you stop driving before reading or listening to e-mail; and sometimes, it’s just easier and more efficient to enter a meeting into your calendar or directions by hand, since you likely have a variety of minor details (phone numbers, locations, street names, notes, etc.) that you can enter more quickly than Siri can “digest” your spoken words.

On the flip side—and to be fair—it sometimes does make sense to speak commands into your phone. But these situations are the exception to the rule. The problem with Siri is that everyone just loves their iPhones so much, and they want to use all the cool new features Apple has packed into its new handheld that they will inevitably use them inappropriately and inefficiently.

Case in point: A woman on the train has a shiny new iPhone 4S. It’s rush hour. And she’s running late. Her husband is preparing dinner, and he needs to know when to put in the garlic bread so it’s ready when she walks in the door. Instead of just typing in a quick text, iMessage or e-mail, she decides to use Siri. But because of the background noise on the train, Siri doesn’t work the first time she tries. So she speaks a bit louder. And a bit louder. And maybe Siri “understands” that time, but the volume on our subject’s iPhone isn’t turned up high enough for her to hear Siri’s response/confirmation. So she turns up the volume and tries again. Meanwhile, many of her fellow passengers want to strangle her—and for good reason. What’s worse: seeing our Siri Slave in action creates a chain reaction and other Slaves on the train reach for their devices to speak to Siri. And a lot of time has been wasted.

Rumors suggest that Apple may have some more interesting—and more suitable—uses for Siri up its metaphorical sleeve. For instance, Apple is reportedly working on a Siri-powered TV. And honestly, that makes more sense to me than the smartphone-based Siri system, since I really don’t care if you want to yell at your electronics—I don’t have to listen when you’re in the privacy of your own home.

But the emergence of these Siri Slaves in my neighborhood, in my office, on the train and in my favorite establishments is already becoming an issue for me. It’s bad enough that I can barely walk down the street in a major city without having to dodge people who seemingly never look up from their smartphones. Do we really want to live in a world where no one in our immediate vicinities wants to make eye contact, yet where everyone feels perfectly comfortable talking to inanimate objects?

Not I. Sorry, Siri.