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I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't be of any use whatsoever

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I got an iPhone 4S on Wednesday.

(It was inevitable. I was just waiting to be eligible for upgrade pricing.)

Unfortunately, I'm finding Siri really frustrating. At least about movies, which is the main thing I've tried so far.

In the old version of Siri—the standalone app, before it was integrated into the OS—if you asked for a list of local movies, it would (iIrc) show you a list of movies playing nearby. If you asked for local theatres, it would show you the theatres—and if you tapped one, it would let you see what was playing there, as well as giving you other options, like seeing a map. (I could be misremembering, though; the old Siri hasn't worked, at least not for me, since new Siri was introduced.)

The new Siri is deeply integrated into the OS. Which is great. Except that it's substantially dumber than the old Siri was in some ways.

Me: What movies are playing near here tonight?

Siri: I found a number of movie theaters... 3 of them are fairly close to you:

It shows me a list of theatres. But as far as I can tell, the only thing I can do with them is tap them to bring up a map. I can't find a way to get Siri to tell me what's playing at any of them.

Me: What's playing at the Century 16 tonight?

Siri correctly recognizes the words I said, and sends the whole phrase off to Google, which shows me a page of search results. From there, I can get to the info I want relatively easily, but Siri doesn't just show it to me. I'm not sure, but I think the old Siri gave the correct list of movies in response to this query.

Me: Give me directions to Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto.

Siri: I found 25 local theaters matching 'Aquarius'. Tap the one you want directions to:

It gives me a list of 25 local theatres, none of which is the Aquarius, most of which are 30 miles from Palo Alto. This was the result that annoyed me the most—it seems like a significant bug.

Me: Show me movie theatres in Palo Alto.

Siri: I found 8 movie theaters... 5 of them are in Palo Alto:

Aha! The Aquarius! I tap it and get a map showing the Aquarius's location. I tap the Aquarius.

I get the usual Maps info screen. There's a button that says “Directions to here,” as usual. But it might be fun to use a contextual voice interface to do that rather than tapping a button.

So I bring up Siri from that page and I ask:

Me: Directions to here.

Siri: I'm sorry Jed, I'm afraid I can't do that.

Sigh. I suppose that's not too surprising (that it doesn't know that by “here” in this context I meant the current Maps selection), but it's disappointing.

While I'm here, I'd kind of like to try out Siri's speech feature, temporarily, and maybe take a look at other settings/preferences. So:

Me: Show me Siri settings.

Siri: Sorry, I don't understand 'Show me Siri settings'.

Me: Take me to settings.

Siri: I'd like to, Jed, but I'm not allowed to. Sorry about that.

Me: Launch app.

Siri: Ever so sorry, Jed... I'm not allowed to do that.

Okay, enough. Time for me to report these problems.

Me: How do I report a bug in Siri?

Siri: I can't answer that. But I could search the web for it, if you like.

Never mind, Siri. I'm sorry to say that you're not really being very helpful.

I should note that it was better at some other tasks. But one of the other first things I tried was setting a location-based reminder (I've been wanting to be able to do that for five years), and I ran into some problems with speech recognition (it wasn't recognizing some of the ordinary words I used in my reminder request), though it seems to be working fine now.

I know this is beta software. And I'm still amused by some of the posts on the various stuff-Siri-says sites (Shit Siri Says, Shit That Siri Says). And I imagine that the movie stuff is mostly just due to a missing data source. But even so, my first-day experiences with the new Siri were pretty disappointing, especially compared to my memories (which may be inaccurate) of the old Siri.

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I happened across this entry today, five months after posting it, and decided to see whether Siri was any better now than it was then.

The first two queries give the same answers as before. The third one, however, is much better now: I say “Give me directions to the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto” and it gives me directions to the correct theatre. So that's a nice change.

But all the rest of the queries give the same answers.

In between then and now, I've also had several experiences in which I've tried to send text messages to friends, using Siri, while driving. It sometimes works, but more often it's an incredibly frustrating experience, with Siri misunderstanding names (that are listed in my contacts) as commands, and then losing context when I get halfway through the process.

So I'm sorry to say that the latest generation of Siri still seems not ready for prime time to me.


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