Siri needs to get a lot smarter, and quickly

Apple's voice assistant is being left in the dust by its competitors

Hello from CES in Las Vegas! In a temporary lapse of sanity, I decided to drive here — 12 hours from Northern California. During that trip, I used Siri more than I have in a long time . . . and it was an absolutely dreadful experience.

I also have HomePod speakers around my house, so I use Siri sometimes. It’s mostly okay, but this journey drove it home for me: Apple is falling significantly behind in the voice assistant race.

Siri was one of the first voice assistants to be available on smartphones. It’s a great assistive feature, but it’s about as cutting-edge as a butter knife. I have a list of examples as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but here are just a handful.

I am sufficiently European that I have my phone set to 24-hour time, and for some reason, Siri has decided that she, too, wants to report the time that way.

So when I ask Siri for the time, instead of responding more conversationally and saying, “It’s half past 1” (as it’s intended to be), Siri insists on using the 24-hour format, too. “It is 13:30,” it says. OK, yeah, that’s technically correct, but it’s an often-recurring reminder of Siri’s inability to adapt to the nuances and complexities of natural human speech.

Sadly, Siri seems to be lagging the competition in this department by a country mile. Alexa, for all its foibles, is pretty damn clever these days. Google’s voice assistant has its stuff buttoned up tight, too. But Siri gets confused more often than not.

For example, if you’re leaving the room and you say, “Hey, Siri, turn off the lights and start the Roomba,” Siri will throw a digital hissy fit at this compound command, demanding that each task be assigned separately. It’s frustrating, especially compared to how seamlessly Apple’s competitors handle multistep instructions in this space.

Let’s not even start on the fact that it’s 2024, and Siri still can’t easily adjust the temperature on your Nest thermostat. It’s disappointing.

When it comes to online searches, Siri is less of an assistant and more of a middleman. Ask her a question, and instead of giving you a direct answer, it’ll suggest a web search. This not only disrupts the flow of interaction but also admits Siri’s inability to sift through information effectively. Google Assistant and ChatGPT’s voice assistant, on the other hand, deliver relevant answers quickly and directly. They don’t just copy-paste search results — they parse through a vast array of information and present it in a concise, easy-to-understand manner.

Google Assistant is like that kid in class who’s always raising their hand, always has the right answer, and makes everyone else look bad. It’s not just about understanding what’s being said; it’s about grasping its intent. Google Assistant can handle complex queries, engage in contextual conversations and provide helpful responses. It’s like having your own personal Jeeves, but without a posh English accent.

Then there’s ChatGPT’s voice assistant, which is extraordinary. That overachiever we just talked about? Give them a sense of humor and a dash of empathy and you’ll get this assistant. Powered by advanced AI, ChatGPT’s voice assistant can understand and generate human-like responses with astonishing accuracy. It can hold complex conversations, follow up on previous interactions, and even crack a joke or two. This is the kind of innovation that makes Siri feel like an 8-track player in the world of music streaming.

In the tech world, stagnation is worse than moving backward. Once hailed as a revolutionary voice assistant, Siri now feels like a relic of a bygone era. The strides made by Google Assistant and ChatGPT’s voice assistant illuminate the path Siri needs to take.

Apple loves to fly its innovation flag, but I really hope the company gets its act together and revamps Siri. Otherwise, it’ll risk becoming a footnote in the annals of voice assistant history. After all, it’s not just about understanding words; it’s about understanding the meaning behind them.

Hey, Siri, are you listening?