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Against Siri: iPhone 4S’ voice control software isn’t for me

iPhone 4S

Apple’s just lauched iPhone 4S – beautifully balanced between releasing an identical device and adding enough features to make it sound new – features a voice activated “personal assistant”, called Siri.

This means you can talk to your iPhone 4S like you’re speaking to another human being and it will perform whatever task it thinks you want it to perform.

This leaves me unsettled on various levels.

No matter how good voice control technology gets, I still struggle with the fact that I’m talking to a machine. I even find myself putting on a slightly effected voice that isn’t a million miles away from Basil Fawlty’s when he’s talking to someone from another country.

Will voice control ever feel natural?

It’s not just me either. You can instantly tell when someone is on the phone to a voice recognition machine. It’s like a subtle blend of frustration and embarrassment and neither of these make for a nice experience for the user.

Wireless Bluetooth headsets also come to mind. We were told that we’d get used these, but I can’t remember the last time I saw someone using one with their phone – probably because it looks like you’re talking to yourself. For me, Siri falls into the same category.

There are certain technologies that are just naturally uncomfortable to use and not even Apple can change this. Look at video calling – or ‘Facetime’ as Apple rechristened it on the iPhone 4 – a year later and still no-one is using it.

I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that

Not to mention how creepy Siri is. According to Apple, Siri remembers things:

‘When you say “Meet Andrew for coffee at 4 o’clock today”, Siri will reply “All right, the meeting with Andrew is on your calendar for today”. Then you can say “Remind me to call him as soon as I get to the office”. Siri remembers that you were just talking about Andrew, so it can set the right reminder.’

Sometimes even I can’t remember who I’m talking about and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with my phone being that much smarter than me!

Also, Siri apparently gets used to your voice, meaning the more you use it the better it will understand you. What if it learns my voice so well that it can begin to imitate me and starts phoning my friends all by itself? I certainly don’t want to be the first victim of identity fraud committed by my own phone.

Do you think voice controlled phones will take off, or is Siri just a gimmick? Andy Vandervell argues in favour of Apple’s latest innovation in his iPhone 4S Conversation.

Would you use voice-controlled software on your smartphone?

Maybe - if the software works well (41%, 156 Votes)

No - voice control is a stupid idea (28%, 104 Votes)

Yes - voice control is the future (27%, 102 Votes)

I already use it (4%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 377

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Comments
Guest
Adam says:
5 October 2011

I think the big issue with voice control so far – apart from the recognition issues, and we’ll all have to wait and see how effective Siri is – is that it’s just easier to do whatever you’re trying to do with the normal touch/key interface than the voice command. Siri may differ in this respect – certainly for setting reminders it would appear to.

I’m looking forward to trying it. Looking like an idiot by talking to yourself is a strong point of mine already.

Guest

I cannot believe how Luddite most of the comments about voice recognition systems are! Sure the software needs to be good but Apple have always integrated the hardware well with the software and that is the main issue here. I used the “Wildfire” system with Orange years ago[original Orange phone] without any problems. Those that did have problems with Wildfire usually had poorly installed car-kits and didn’t use noise cancelling microphones. Since then quality audio systems in new cars interface well with bluetooth enabled handsets and bluetooth headsets from manufacturers with a pedegree in noise cancelling microphones work really well. As I have said in another blog if Siri stops just one of the idiots I see every few minutes driving cars with handsets to their ears it will have succeeded.

Guest

After trying Siri out for the first time I can confirm that I remain far from convinced.

It had trouble understanding what I said and – due to Apple’s lack of a deal with someone to provide local information – wasn’t able to do any of the fancy finding local businesses stuff that Apple made a big deal of.

It’s better than some voice recognition stuff I’ve tried but it still needed an affected voice and was very far from a comfortable and natural experience.

Guest

We’re going to have Siri in the studio for the podcast today – so we welcome your comments about the technology

Guest
Mikhail says:
19 October 2011

I love Siri, although, English is my second language (after Russian) Siri always understands me, even when I ask to make a quite complex appointments, i.e., with subject / name / place / time / date. Obviously, it won’t work in Apple store because of the noise level, works fine at home and office.