Mossberg: Why does Apple’s Siri seem so dumb?

“In addition to the iPhone, Siri is now on the iPad, and was recently added to the Mac. It’s also on Apple TV. Via the phone, it’s the key user interface in Apple’s CarPlay infotainment system for autos and even the soon-to-be-released wireless AirPod earbuds,” Walt Mossberg writes for The Verge. “Siri is also the point of the spear for Apple in the coming tech war, just getting started, to make artificial intelligence a natural, conversational part of your world — at home, on your phone, in your car, everywhere. And Apple had a big head start with Siri.”

“So why does Siri seem so dumb? Why are its talents so limited? Why does it stumble so often?” Mossberg writes. “When was the last time Siri delighted you with a satisfying and surprising answer or action?”

“For me at least, and for many people I know, it’s been years,” Mossberg writes. “It seems to me that Apple has wasted its lead with Siri. And now Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others are on the march… In its current incarnation, Siri is too limited and unreliable to be an effective weapon for Apple in the coming AI wars. It seems stagnant.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Because Apple values their users’ privacy — unlike all of the other outfits’ mentioned — and their work on Differential Privacy has only just begun.

Apple releases tvOS 10 with new Siri features, improved search, dark mode, and more – September 13, 2016
Apple’s Siri is set to control your home – September 6, 2016
Personal assistant bots like Apple’s Siri have a serious problem – July 18, 2016
Tim Bajarin: Siri is crucial to the Apple’s future – July 5, 2016
Apple’s Siri feels like a true personal assistant on Macintosh – July 1, 2016
The time has come to think different about Apple’s Siri – June 30, 2016
Conversing with Apple’s Siri in macOS Sierra already feels almost natural – June 22, 2016
Apple’s Siri digital assistant made Cortana look bad at WWDC – June 14, 2016


  1. I have only had very limited success with Siri and agree wholeheartedly with Walt on this. Siri is slightly better than useless and I don’t think it has anything to do with protecting my privacy.

  2. I agree with Mossberg on this one. Siri is idiotic. It mistranslates word that I use often, people’s names that are in my address book, stuff it should know how to do almost from the start, let alone after in some cases tens of corrections. Same with maps. I have uploaded corrections to address locations in maps via their correction process in some cases 8-10 or more times, and they NEVER change the locations. Inexcusable and a waste of my time, so I stopped the insanity.

    1. Speaking of Maps, for the very first time this morning I received a notice from Apple that a correction (a street name and a location) that I had submitted had been made. I submitted this correction over a year ago and nothing happened. I submitted it again after iOS 10 came out and within just a few weeks, there it was.

    2. agreed! especially when it comes to maps!! i was thinking i could have replaced google maps a few years ago. you know, after the dust had settled and apple got to work making things right. nope. not even close. in some situations maps works better than google maps… but that’s maybe 10% of the time.

  3. i have to disagree with you – its not because of privacy. None of the queries Mossberg mentioned had anything to do with personal information. apple needs to do what they did with maps. Hire a huge team to deal with cultural and factual questions. Ultimately, I feel, they need to buy a search engine. Apple has basically fixed the VR part of siri, now they need to work on content. I disagree with Mossberg when he says SIRI can’t delight. With the new home kit integration when I walk up to my home after sunset all the lights turn on – I get such a kick out of that.

  4. I agree with Walt on this one too. And security has nothing to do with it. Apple has been a funny company since Jobs left. The Mac has been left to just sit there. Pro Apps like FCPX, Aperture, as well has communication software have either been discontinued or just sit there as far as releases are concerned. SIRI, which was a breakthrough product, only seems to get software updates to support such things as Apple TV, but not to expand to it’s true capacity. Apple seems to really work on the iPhone, iTunes, music, and some car project, but not on these other things. They just seem to lose interest. When’s the last time you saw a new Apple monitor? They just don’t seem to stick with anything when it comes to software and hardware that made the company. With the exception of the operating, which they continue to do a good job with, I very little in other areas. I don’t know what they are working on in their labs but there are other things that need some love too.

    1. Yep, Apple since Steve left is a dismal shell of its former sell, one that you document quite well. Tim Cook simply does not believe in innovation. Or does not understand innovation. He’s surrounded by the likes of Eddy Cue. How the hell can he have any chance of success? The Mac has been allowed to simply flounder and die almost. Google is KILLING Apple in schools. It’s just a dismal situation.

  5. Siri has a lot of issues. However it is the benchmark. If anyone else comes out with a voice assistant they have to be better than Siri, at least on some things. Siri is a tool, just like the iPhone. You need to learn what a tool is good for and use it for that and don’t expect it to be good at everything.

      1. Sport scores/times, math, word definitions (but needs word synonyms and grammar queries), some facts and figures, reminders are useful, but it fails at stuff like “what was the last Instgram post?” or “the last text message?”, and many stock tickers (doesn’t understand acronyms), etc.

        Maybe they can also have:

        1. A Siri issue reporting mechanism like maps
        2. A page, section or app outlining the recent Siri updates

    1. The only thing that Siri is a benchmark for right now seems to be the ‘personality’. Turn that off and you can better see how far behind the assistant has fallen in the Personal Assistant race. Hopefully Apple can integrate Viv tech before it too gets ‘stale’ to competitors’ tech.

    2. When I got my Amazon Echo I was shocked at how accurately it understands me…from across the room…without talking weird. But they don’t have access to my email, schedule, contacts, etc. If Apple could pair that kind of accuracy with the amount of my information they have, that could be amazing.

  6. I agree with Walt too. Siri doesn’t use context enough. One example: Although my phone anticipates i’m probably driving to the coffee shop on Saturday morning, Siri can’t call that coffee shop, despite the fact that I call the shop often to put my order in on the way there. The name of coffee shop is in my favorites. Sometimes she will dial someone i haven’t called in years instead. I appreciate apple protecting my privacy and i hope they can get this figured out in a way that balances convenience and security.

    1. let me clarify- I’m not expecting her to call automatically, i’m saying “Siri, call Bom Dia Coffee” and she says I’m sorry, I dont see _____ would you like to search the internet? It would be really sweet if she could simply put location, call history and favorites together to be more acurate. It would be even sweeter if she actually anticipated and asked me if I wanted to call while I was headed there!

      1. My husband has his mom listed in his address book as “Mother”. He has a mobile and house phone listed. Invariably, without fail, he will say “Call Mother, Mobile” and Siri will invariable fail, asking “Which number for Mother would you like to call?” He said “mobile”. It works for my contacts. But for the number he dials the most often, it fails.

  7. Ok used it on my Mac for the first time as a test on my Mac today. It looked like it was going to be very useful and competent in sending an email for me. However it did fall down on something which did make me think why is it so dumb after so many years of development and over something that had nothing to do with privacy. I asked to send an email to (persons name) and it understood and prepared to create a new email, it re ignited I had two email addresses for this person, a work and personal one and asked which to use. At this point I was impressed I can tell you. And then at the last step it failed. I read out the email I wished to use and it tripped up on his first name ie Gaz for Gareth but understood the rest of the email address in particular the ‘’ which was different to the other option which was his company’s server. Yet Siri was totally unable to suggest to me that the former was what I wanted to use even as a query. It simply said it didn’t recognise the address. That actually shocked me, as it seems an easy ability to programme in surely, and yet years of development has failed to do the bl__dy obvious.
    So while seeing the real potential and near usefulness of it in action, instead I am left feeling frustrated thinking if they haven’t acheived that simple basic task of prediction by now, based on 90% of received information with all the clues necessary, when the hell can I actually expect it to do so. Clearly that simple improvement would transform its usibility but I’m not holding my breath. But I will persist and see if my next attempts are any better.

      1. Doesn’t work on the phone for my husband. He says “Call Mother, Mobile” and it always asks which number. I’ve seen the address book entry. She’s listed as “Mother” and has two phone numbers. One is listed as “Home” the other as “Mobile”. Siri ALWAYS asks which one. It’s supposed to get it in one shot.

    1. Agreed that Siri is a long work in progress. And I’m sure it will improve in time. The question is, will Apple ever catch up to their competitors who have years of head start and are not standing still with their Personal Assistants that are more deeply integrated into the rest of their ecosystems. Apple has for good or bad bound itself by their policy for privacy over convenience. While they carefully try to work with that self imposed binding, Apple’s Assistant tech will keep falling further behind and perhaps require future purchases of companies like Viv.

  8. Maybe it is because Apple employees are out marching on Pride Day in San Francisco instead of doing their jobs.

    I do not care if Apple promotes diversity but expect that they tale care of business first. Judging by how many things have gone to seed from the Mac Pro to the whole Mac lineup, nobody should be taking a vacation at Apple. When they fix iTunes, Siri, CarPlay, Maps (including navigation), Mail and rest the functionality they stripped out of Pages, Numbers and Keynote than they can go wave rainbow flags on the street.

    I remember the famous Steve Jobs dressing down of the Mobile Me team:

    “Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continues, “So why the f*** doesn’t it do that?”

    Exactly. Steve Jobs obsessed over the way the headphone jack felt when used the night before unveiling the iPod. Do you think he would have not kicked some of today’s executives in the ass or out the door over some of the stuff going on routinely at Apple?

    Steve Jobs told Tim Cook to run Apple as he would – not as he thinks Steve would, but that did not include dropping the ball on so much. Apple got stuff right when they had far less money and far fewer resources- they should have no excuses today with more money than Gawd.

    1. At lease SIRI isn’t homophobic. I assume you picked Gay Pride to make some point. Employees don’t work on Christmas or New Years, in fact i believe they close down for an entire week then. But I’m sure it’s because of Gay Pride that SIRI is having difficulties.

      1. I am not Homophobic and have worked with and PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign for a long time. Having had gay roommates in both the Army and College as well as friends and family, it is not an academic subject to me. I also was working in healthcare in the 1980s-90s at hospitals when AIDS was feared by many staff.

        My point in using Pride San Francisco is that Apple has promoted their participation in it widely and while a great cause, it is not the reason a for-profit company exists. Mr Cook & Co need to take care of business first.

    1. yeah- The only one I can recall is (the roll out) when the presenter asked siri if he needed to bring an umbrella and she would quickly bring up the weather with the canned rain response. It looked brilliant at the time. Now we know she was a one trick pony when it came to artificial intelligence.

  9. Siri is smarter than your honors student. But not as smart as my dog. Anyway, it hardly ever works for me. Another piece of junque that Apple has made in the long line of “We don’t make junque” story. Somebody probably needs to be fired, and somebody needs to be hired.

    1. Much as I wish Siri would further progress, compared to what we had/have with Plaintalk speech recognition and script running on Mac (still sort of available via Dictation), Siri is FAR better! In my home environment, with my hardware and my articulate speech, I rarely run into problem with Siri understanding me. Plaintalk’s speech recognition was abominable! Note that Apple is now using Nuance’s speech recognition, as found in Dragon. It is added as the front end of what is actually Siri, that being an expert system and associated database with text in and text out.

      1. Even a bigger shocker. My wife has a iPad Pro and a stylus…no fsck-ing handwriting recognition. Something that worked on the Newton Message Pad over 20 years ago (I am getting old). That is sad. So what does M$ do have commercials showing how stupidly the stylus is utilized on iPads. Good catch by their marketing people.

        1. Apple has Inkwell on Macs, which essentially is Newton handwriting recognition. You have to have a recognized pen tablet (Wacom…) for it to run. So why hasn’t Apple ported that over to iOS?

          Reading at article over at iMore, they know of no handwriting recognition software designed to work with the iPad Pro. Seriously?!

          An article at 9to5 Mac recommends GoodNotes 4 for handwriting recognition as well as its other features. It does indeed support the Apple Pencil! But the recognized text is only good for search or copy/paste into something else.

          Digging around on my own I found PenReader Handwriting Recognition at the App Store. It also supports the Apple Pencil. But all the reviews hate it.

          On regular iOS devices I’d recommend trying WritePad or WritePad Pro. But they don’t offer any direct support for Apple Pencil, as of yet anyway.

          Meanwhile, Microsoft tried providing handwriting recognition during the beta of their first touch version of Windows over a decade ago and removed it, the results were so poor. But I see they added it to the Surface as of 2013. It’s getting good reviews.

  10. Sorry, MDN, that excuse does not cut it. Siri should be able to tell me about what’s on TV tonight. If I have airline tickets in my Apple Wallet app, it should be able to tell me about my flight: Time, Gate, Seat, flight duration, status. Siri knows NOTHING about it. If I have a movie ticket, Siri should be able to tell me my seats, theater number, start time, duration, etc. There are a lot of questions Siri should be able to answer. Instead it often does a web search and has me click through to figure out what is relevant. I asked: What’s the capital of Montanna. It said “Checking on that… Here’s what I found on the web for ‘What’s the capital of Montanna.” The search result had it. They showed a Wiki entry. But it couldn’t say: “The capital of Montana is Helena.” Why not?

    If you are on a web page or in an iBook and you tell Siri: “Read this to me.” Siri will tell you that there’s nothing to read.

    This isn’t just a matter of Apple respecting privacy. It’s bad software. Siri is stupid and nearly worthless in its current form. Apple needs to dedicate more resources to it. Then it will have to promote it again to people who have given up on it.

    1. Apple has designed iOS to not share data/communicate easily between Apps. This level of sandboxing is part of why iOS is considered more secure than Android. At the same time that same sandboxing is making it harder for Apple to implement functions like “Read this to me” or telling you about flight information provided in an email or calendar entry connected to your account.

    2. From what I read, the original Siri, before Apple bought it, was able to more intimately access a variety of services for more detailed answers to queries. Once Apple bought Siri, a lot of that was tossed out of Siri. I have to wonder why. I’d dare a guess that a lot of companies couldn’t come to an agreement with Apple about such access. I keep hoping Apple will restore this depth of Internet data access.

      Example: I dug around at AOL TV (Huffington Post) until I found a URL I can use to find my local TV listings, direct and simple. I’d think Siri could become ‘smart’ enough to at least walk a user through the process of finding that link then save it to memory for future use.

      Siri has a long way to go in the smarts department.

      1. I’m leaning towards the extreme sandboxing of Apps and data in iOS as the major difficulty in doing everything Siri was originally designed to do. If the same companies’ app’s data is accessible by Android for use by the Assistant, I would reasonably assume it is the design of iOS and or policies on Apple’s end, not any agreements for access that have not been made.

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