Siri: Why it May be Another FaceTime

By , Oct 18, 2011

We talked about Siri, Apple’s new voice-controlled digital assistant, for months before it actually arrived. We didn’t even get confirmation that it existed until a week before its release, yet it feels like we’ve been hyping it up forever. For good reason, too.

When before have we been able to talk to a piece of technology in that all-so-awesome Star Trek kind of way? The way we’ve been dreaming about ever since someone in a lycra suit, (three sizes too small for them of course) first asked a question of a disembodied voice. Star Trek characters often had seemingly real conversations with their computers, and we were oh so jealous.

Until now…

As of last Friday, anyone can walk into an Apple Store or reseller of their choice and pick up an iPhone 4S. Granted, stock may be short, but the technology is here right now, and if our few days-worth of testing is anything to go by, it’s a compelling technology at that.

But I can’t help but have a nagging doubt, right at the pit of my stomach, that something’s not quite right.

We have, of course, been here before.

Siri isn’t the first time Apple has promised to take something we’ve been hoping for and make it mainstream. We’ve had video calling, another futuristic Star Trek-like experience, turned into FaceTime by the boffins in Cupertino.

We’ve also had Apple try their hand at social networks, not once, but twice. For the gamers, Apple introduced Game Center, their attempt at bringing gamers together and allowing them to build up a circle of friends. A competitive edge was added by the inclusion of gamer points, ala Xbox Live as well. Awesome, right?

Music lovers got, and I’ll whisper this quietly so as not to upset too manypeople, ‘Ping!’ Remember that?

What do all these have in common? Apple unveiled them all as part of their current plan to take something that hasn’t necessarily worked elsewhere, and add their flair to it. It worked to devastating affect with the iPod, and let we forget that Apple wasn’t first to that particular party. It even happened with the iPhone. Smartphones did, believe it or not, exist prior to Steve Jobs entering the fray with the first iPhone back in 2007. Hell, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet either, and look how that’s doing right now!

The thing is, Facetime, Game Center and Ping all went horribly wrong. Nobody uses them, beyond a few edge cases, and largely, nobody cares.

It’s perhaps a happy coincidence that all three have come along during the reign of the iDevice, but there were failures before the advent of the iPhone, too.

Could Siri be the next failure for a company that gets things wrong, almost as much as it gets them right?

I’ve been fortunate to spend the last four days or so with Siri as my personal assistant, and we currently have a strained relationship.

While I must admit that there are few things cooler than having your iPhone listen to what you’re saying, then have it act on it, and after that have it ask a question based on what you said earlier. It really is almost like you’re having a conversation with Siri.

But that’s when it is working. When it’s not, it really can make things difficult.

For example: It just took me – and this is no lie – 15 minutes to make Siri put the word “cool” into an iMessage. What did I end up with after dictating ‘Cool – period’ and waiting? A nice new iMessage who’s contents consisted of a period. That’s it. In the end, I took to the old fashioned approach of using my fingers. Funnily enough, I managed to spell it right and I went on with my life.

Now before you all start to rant and rave, sending me messages on Twitter and generally filling my comments with hate – yes, I do know it’s a beta, and yes, I know it’s probably going to improve. But will it be too late?

Indulge me for just a moment, and cast your minds back to Facetime, and the iPhone 4′s launch. We were all blown away by how Apple had taken the video call and made it accessible for the average man, woman and child. It was going to change the way we spoke to one-another, how we interacted over long distances. We were all very giddy. But then what happened?

Facetime is now confined to one of those things we keep forgetting our iPhones can do. Being WiFi-only use hasn’t helped its cause, but that’s a limitation that we all assumed would go away in the months after launch, but it never did.

Just like we assume Siri will get better. What if it never does?

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  • Thib

    I also forgot to say that sometimes for users (at least for me) it can be frustrating when Apple drops a technology that you’ve been using. A case in point is OS X’s Front Row which I think Apple supported and developed for the first few iterations of OS X and then later stopped developing though included in the subsequent versions of OS X but then really has stopped supporting it. Though Front Row is not a crucial technology, a few years ago I did set up a system to use Front Row and I enjoyed being able to run my media using an Apple Remote. Alas…!

  • rob

    I know more people usig Facetime than Skype. I think that’s a better measure than just speculating on how many people use FaceTime, inclusive of owners of devices that arenrob even compatible. Once 3g and 3gs owners upgrade, they’ll get in on it too.

  • Jayar

    Why is it acceptable for a company like Google to have failed “projects”, but a company like Apple needs to hit the nail on the head every single time?

    • Drewski

      Because a company as innovative and successful as Apple always has a big red target painted on it for “critics”*haters* to open fire on. This takes heat off of dingalings like Samsung.

  • Cameron

    The others have been failures because they’re pretty much useless. Siri actually does something besides let you look at a person while talking to them on a WiFi connection. And does Ping actually do anything at all? Siri, if developed continually and properly, is Apple’s next big thing.

    • Jfw

      I agree. Siri has a lot of potential. I already find it to be incredibly useful at setting up reminders, alarms, & appointments. Its not perfect yet but the trick with siri is u need to know how to ask it stuff. Once u get the hang of it it works pretty well. Also, Facetime isnt dead. I use it all the time as well but the wifi only thing is restricting. If they can work with the carriers to get it on 3g & also get other phones to adopt the technology, it will definitely take off. Facetime works great its just being held back by external factors. Thats not really apples fault.

  • David

    Me and my brother had more fun using FaceTime and iMessage than he did using Siri; go figure.

  • Bob

    Siri is a godsend for those of us who commute. Especially here in Los Angeles where the drives can be long and using your phone while driving is a good way to invite a cop into your car and pile on any other violations they can think of. If Siri continues to improve like I think it will, I don’t see it being a flop anytime soon. Personally, there are plenty of things for me to do on my phone in my car if it had the capability.

  • Tom B

    I use Facetime. No complaints. And, with Skype gone (or soon to be gone), Facetime is likely to see increasing usage.

  • Sapientum

    Come on people, do you really think the main objective of Ping was to provide utility for the Users? It is Apple’s covert way of collecting listener data so they can pick up on and predict trends in the music industry. As a small benefit you get delivered back to you suggestions of songs you might want to buy from the iTunes store. Think of it like Amazon’s “people who bought X also bought Y” offers. Its just there to sell you more of what you like.

    Just wait until Siri starts making suggestions for things to do and buy based on your behaviour. You can bet the movies, songs, products, places suggested will all be those promoted by Apple and it’s partners.

  • fdxgncgfn

    ping is to newstand as facetime is to siri. and theres nothing wrong with gamecenter, its actually pretty good.