My Love-Hate Relationship with ‘Hey, Siri’

I hate talking out loud to Siri, but damn if it isn’t far more useful if you talk out loud to her.

Let me first start by saying that this post is not about the quality or accuracy of Siri. For everything I have used Siri for, it has been more than accurate and I have no issues with Siri as a service.

My problem is the interface itself.

What’s the easiest way to look up a sports score? Siri. What’s the fastest way to set a timer? Siri.

How do I typically look up sports scores? Safari. How do I typically set timers? Control Center.

Why is it that I know so many things can be done faster, and easier with Siri, but yet I never use Siri for these things unless I am in my car and alone?

In order to gain the full benefit of Siri, I have to be willing to talk out loud to an inanimate object. And, as it turns out, that’s a problem for me.

Hey Siri

With iOS 9 you can now belt “Hey Siri” anytime to activate it — your iPhone need not be plugged in and it even tries to learn which voice is your voice. This is pretty cool and is amazingly useful, but you still have to talk out loud to a slab of glass. Which is really weird if you think about it that way.

Still, ‘Hey Siri’ is easily one of the best features on iPhones. You can get at any number of facts in a moment without even having to stop what you are doing. Without even having to summarize the answer for yourself.

  • Is it going to rain tomorrow?
  • What’s the line on the Seahawks game?
  • When’s my next meeting?
  • What time is it in Germany?

I can do, or find, any of those things with Safari and any number of apps I have installed on my iPhone. But I can do all those things in a fraction of the time with Siri voice commands — and often I get better answers from Siri either way.

The answers Siri gives are far more distilled and digestible than what I would find with most searches. Because of this I am actually astonished I don’t see more people talking to Siri on a daily basis as we move about our lives.

It Feels Weird

Even just sitting here in my calm and quiet office, where there is no one else to know I am speaking to Siri, it feels odd to talk to Siri. Yet I feel fine doing it in the car. But once I leave the car for public spaces ‘Hey Siri’ becomes a non-starter once again.

There’s likely a great many psychological reasons for this, but I believe the biggest reasons it feels weird is because there is simply no way to look cool and talk to Siri, and there is absolutely no privacy when you talk to Siri.

Yes, I am most certainly going to look like a nerd if I start talking to Siri in public. That may or may not embarrass you. Either way, you will look like a nerd. But this fear can be overcome. And despite being the main reason I am told by people when I ask them why they don’t use Siri — I don’t think it is the real issue.

What cannot be overcome is, whatever you ask Siri, will be heard by someone else. Even an innocent question to get the sports score can be something to fear asking in public. Someone will hear, and then you will have to converse with that person about your team.

That’s the worst. The last thing I want to do is talk to someone about the state of local sports — I typically just want to know the score so I know what kind of general mood the people around me are going to be in.

It doesn’t stop with sports either. Ask Siri for the weather and someone will lament the upcoming weather after Siri reads back the forecast. Ask about your next meeting, and everyone will assume you are trying to show off how important you are — I don’t even want to think about the embarrassment which might follow if Siri was to tell you there is nothing on your calendar. Can you imagine?

Or what about a small fact? Everyone around you will look at you wondering how you didn’t already know that, right?

Hey Siri, can we talk privately?

The heart of my reluctance to use Siri is the general lack of privacy it affords. It’s the same reason I don’t dictate many messages when others are around. I don’t want people to know what I am thinking, and yet in order to use the technology at hand in the most efficient manner possible — I have to literally tell everyone around me what I am thinking.

That does not sit well with me.

I shouldn’t have to quadruple the amount of time it will take me to check the weather, just because I don’t want to broadcast to everyone around me that I am checking the weather.

Spotlight and Siri

I’ve long wished there was a text interface for Siri. Something like what Facebook appears to be doing with M. Whereby I can invoke the normal Spotlight and enter the same query I might ask of Siri — it then queries Siri for me and shows me the same output I would get with Siri. Just without all the talking back and forth.

All in private.

All with the same speed (less the time it takes to type).

I’ve never actually understood why this isn’t a part of iOS and OS X already as it seems Spotlight is well equipped to handle this. Why isn’t Siri just sitting a swipe, or keyboard shortcut, away waiting to be asked something in a string of text?

Why can’t I type: “What’s the line on the Seahawks game?” and have the same result spit back out to me. It actually saves Apple one step of parsing my speech to begin with.

This seems like a win-win for Apple and for users. Yet we don’t have it. I long for the day I get a text based interface with Siri, and I just hope that Apple gives it to me before I decide that Facebook’s M is worth different privacy tradeoffs (whenever that comes out).

Being That Guy

I don’t want to be the guy that always yells “privacy” every time he writes about technologies like Siri. And in this case I am not at all worried about a corporation knowing what my queries are, I just don’t want the guy next to me in the waiting room knowing what my queries are. And I certainly loathe the idea that in order to not have him come talk to me, I need to spend a lot more time looking around for the answer in Safari.

Apple has created an amazing tool for getting information back very quickly — now I just wish they would allow that tool to be operated in silence.

Most of the time sitting in silence amongst other people is the ideal situation.

I hope Siri understands that some day.

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