Why Apple Released Siri in Beta

By , Dec 6, 2011

Siri has garnered a lot of media attention over the last month. Even hackers with intentions to port the digital assistant to other devices are making headlines. But along with all of the attention comes criticism. There’s a lot of folks that feel Siri isn’t worth the hype.

Apple has taken quite a bit of heat over releasing Siri, even though it’s labelled as “beta.” The company is typically known for releasing finely-tuned products that “just work,” and Siri doesn’t seem to fit that bill. But maybe Apple felt that it had to release Siri…

Ex-IBM Research engineer Benoit Maison wrote an interesting article on his blog in response to the onslaught of criticism Siri has received over its lack of polish. He believes that releasing the feature to the masses is the only way Apple could improve it:

“I worked on speech recognition with IBM Research for nearly six years. We participated in DARPA-sponsored research projects, field trials, and actual product development for various applications: dictation, call centers, automotive, even a classroom assistant for the hearing impaired. The basic story was always the same: get us more data! (data being in this case transcribed speech recordings). There is even a saying in the speech community: “there is no data like more data.”

To improve Siri, engineers must painstakingly look at the requests that she could not understand (in all languages!) and come up with new rules to cope with them.”

So what it boils down to is that in order for Siri to get better, Apple’s engineers need to collect as many failed responses in as many languages and variations as possible. And what better way to do that then by including the feature in its latest handset?

“It is important to understand that unlike Apple’s hardware and app designs, Siri’s software could not have been fine-tuned and thoroughly tested in the lab prior to a glorious release. It had to be released in its current form, to get exposure to as much variability as possible all the way from the acoustics to the interpretation of natural language.”

If Apple is really planning on implementing Siri into future products, say, an Apple TV set, it needs all of the help it can get working out the kinks beforehand.

[Daring Fireball]

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  • Anonymous

    Then to get more feedback release it to all the public.

    • http://twitter.com/jackthatripper2 Jack Ripe

      exactly there’s potentially HUGE data from iphone 4 & 3GS owners that’s not being tapped…

      • http://www.facebook.com/m.evgeny Evgeny Mesh

        I agree, but I think Siri would be a bit too heavy for 3GS. Especially on iOS 5.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1691292176 Asad Shahab

    There you go all Siri haters.. Now what y’all got to say?

    • http://www.facebook.com/iagucool Igor IcyClawz

      That what he says is that Apple collects everything you tell to Siri, even if it’s private information, and have free access to your speech recordings.
      FAIL.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y5AC6VABQBHLZ42UFAE2DIBNSA CharlesB

        Lol it’s not like you’re forced to speak to Siri. Whatever you say you’re technically already saying it out loud in public…
        Not so fail…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1332728607 Omar D. Plumey

    Makes sense.

  • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

    This is the only way to improve Siri …and apple was right in doing this..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1167174955 Anson Nam

      but the part they only released it to 4s was plain greedy

      • http://www.facebook.com/tx.mattscott Matthew Scott

        Oh here we go, another angry customer who’s moaning about Siri only being on the iPhone 4S. Use your brain, it was used as a marketing strategy for the iPhone 4S. It’s not coming to previous generation devices (at least not from Apple) any time soon, so get over it!

        Also, I think you’ll find that Apple’s brand new data center now isn’t big enough to cater for all of the data being sent and received anyway so even if Siri was released to devices such as the iPhone 3GS, 4, iPod Touch 3rd, 4th gen etc… it wouldn’t work at all.

  • Anonymous

    Then Apple should have included the iPhone 4 in it’s list of devices that get the Siri Beta tag. That would have opened up another whole world of users to test their gimmicky “feature”.

    • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

      The i4 is not going to get Siri , it’s a feature of the i4s.. Why would you buy a i4s if Siri was on the cheaper i4 …

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1167174955 Anson Nam

        agreed. would u pay more to get a 8.0 mega pixel camera and an a5 processor or wait for another iphone with 12.0 mega pixels or whatever and a6 or even a7 processor?

      • http://www.facebook.com/tx.mattscott Matthew Scott

        You could have easily said that about the 1st iPhone, “Oh I might as well wait 5 years until the iPhone has a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera”. Yeh, makes sense…

  • http://twitter.com/Berracol Berracol

    That’s a good explanation;certainly in matter of language Siri is a product that will never be finished because languages are not ecstatic, they evolve with time;are dynamically evolved.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a good explanation;certainly in matter of language Siri is a product that will never be finished because languages are not ecstatic, they evolve with time;are dynamically evolved.

  • Dan

    makes sense

  • http://twitter.com/pepsiman267 Chris Owens

    That makes perfect sense actually.

  • Anonymous

    Great article , can’t wait for the new and improved siri and seeing how it’s implemented on other devices

  • http://twitter.com/patchcable patchcable

    Modern technology amazes me, it’s essentially learning the language of the plannet on a grand scale!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1562666980 Milad Khahil

    Very well explained ….

  • http://twitter.com/ThatTomHam Tom Ham

    Apple ALWAYS releases in beta. We will forever be their beta testers.

    • http://twitter.com/AmpliFreQuency AmpliHelix

      I believe you misspelled Google…

  • Anonymous

    Ok, that’s all very well, but why then are Apple marketing Siri as a highly sophisticated and polished feature? When in reality it’s very much a “work in progress” feature. I realise it’s says beta on Apple’s website, but as Matt from Giz said, how many buyers would see that or even know what it means?

    Siri would have been a much better release if it wasn’t even advertised until after a few critical updates. An even better move would have been to make it an optional feature of all products on iOS5. Its the fact that it’s an iPhone 4S exclusive that makes it appear like their new premium feature, when in reality it’s got a long way to go, and we all know it would work just fine on the iPhone4 and iPad2 at the very least.

    I really want it to succeed in the long run, but a USA only (for anything location based) half-baked voice product that only runs on Apple’s high end handset (that is marketed in a highly misleading way) is very poor form for Apple.

    • Anonymous

      Just curious as to when Apple ever said “hey, check out this highly sophisticated feature.” Everything you see in the iPhone 4S commercials, Siri can do. It’s not like Apple is guilty of false advertising. And as you say, the feature is marked beta on its website.

      What is Apple supposed to do? Say “Check out Siri, it’s still in beta and can malfunction from time to time” in its commercials? That’s like asking Toyota to make a commercial that says “Check out our cars, sometimes people crash in them and get seriously injured or killed.”

      And your statement that Apple released a half-baked product is subjective. What do you consider half-baked? It outperforms competing voice control options from both Google and Microsoft.

      If anything, Siri is limited. But so was the original iPhone compared to current handsets. If companies only released products when they’ve reached full circle, Best Buy’s shelves would be a lot more empty.

      Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shu-Tse/100003031122741 Shu Tse

    So 4s users are giving apple research data for free, what a chumps.

    Yeah, I wish I was part of the betatesters, but Siri just isn’t worth 500 bucks.

  • jo-macral

    This makes total sense. I’ve never used Siri much due to my geographical location, but it is quite useful for those who can benefit from it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomdotcom.uk Tom Allen

    ‘But maybe Apple felt that it had to release Siri…’ because they wanted the iPhone 4s to have more features than the iPhone 4. A better camera and faster processor is hardly a compelling reason for an iPhone 4 user to spend another few hundred £/$/€ on a 4s.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tx.mattscott Matthew Scott

      You have to remember that’s all the iPhone 3GS was as well, an iPhone 3G with a couple more features (better camera and faster processor). They’re only following previous patterns. The pattern makes perfect sense.

      Release a device, then release a slightly tweaked and upgraded model the year after. Wait a year, then repeat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomdotcom.uk Tom Allen

    ‘But maybe Apple felt that it had to release Siri…’ because they wanted the iPhone 4s to have more features than the iPhone 4. A better camera and faster processor is hardly a compelling reason for an iPhone 4 user to spend another few hundred £/$/€ on a 4s.

  • Russ Anderson

    Really? I think they released it because otherwise the news of the iPhone 4s wouldn’t have been much at all. They hoped to have the 5, ran into issues, had to move back to the 4s, but realized they needed something more than “You waited 18 months for a speed boost”. Siri was half baked, they cranked through, and put it out there, knowing it was going to have issues, stuck a beta sticker on it, and tada.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the design of the 4/4s, and the only thing I want is a modestly bigger screen. But if they were really interested in testing Siri so much, they’d make it available to the 4 as well.