Why Apple Released Siri in Beta

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]