AI is increasingly synonymous with new tech. By next year, I half expect I won’t even be able to buy a backup drive without AI. Which will rifle through my files, rewrite half of them, discard the rest, email my editor that it can write better columns for lower rates, and spend its ill-gotten gains on AI-infused Haribo. It’s what I’d do if I were AI. Anyway, all this AI stuff is a problem for Apple, because – as I recently discovered – Siri is dumb as a rock.
You might wonder if I’ve been living under a rock when making such a statement in Space Year 2024. After all, Siri’s long had a reputation for hardly being stellar. But the truth is, I’ve been insulated from Siri’s incompetence, primarily due to not using it that much. However, that changed when embarking on that most foolish of ideas: a tech upgrade. Specifically, replacing a first-gen Amazon Echo with a new HomePod.
You might wonder why a tech writer has a decade-old gadget lurking. Honestly, though, I’d happily smash out this column on a Commodore 64 if I could. I tend to upgrade when I have to. Except, for some reason, with retro handhelds. They apparently multiply in my office like mice.
Ring of fired
What I’m saying, then, is something like an original Amazon Echo isn’t unusual in this household. But this gadget was starting to outstay its welcome. Our particular Echo’s ring long ago started glowing yellow. As aficionados of the Big Book of Annoying Tech know, that denotes notifications. Once, they were all about deliveries. Increasingly, they turned into ads. And no matter how hard I tried to permanently disable the yellow ring of doom, it always returned.
The last straw was being in bed one night and drowsily spotting the curtain was ominously glowing. I had no idea what was going on. On investigating while armed with what I decided was a suitably terrifying slipper, I found a forgotten Echo Dot menacingly lurking on a windowsill. Heroically avoiding slapping it to pieces with my size 9s, I felt a sense of relief. I’d half wondered if my home was about to become the beachhead for War of the Worlds. Then I properly woke up and felt miffed about the glowing thing happening for the billionth time.
So: Amazon kit was duly purged. HomePods were dotted about. And this made sense, in what’s primarily an Apple household. I was excited about a proper big HomePod in the family room, to kick out ear-smashing sound, act as a hub for HomeKit, and take on other seemingly more minor tasks the Echo had excelled at.
A matter of facts
Sound was a big win. HomeKit was, I discovered, a horrible mess that probably made the discarded Echoes feel smug. But what would have made them guffaw is how Siri dealt with my family’s most regular interaction with smart speakers. Often, we’d chat at dinner and demand an obscure fact from our Echo. Almost always, we’d get an answer. It was like having one of those clever folks who spew facts in gameshows sit quietly in the room until needed. It didn’t even need feeding.
Siri? Well, Siri is dumb as a rock. It manages the basics, like whether reports and simpler facts. Occasionally, it starts playing a random album when asked something. But too often – and with anything obscure – Siri chirps it’s found some web results and can show them if you ask again from your iPhone. It’s all the thing can do to not then start screaming: “NOW! Use your iPhone! RIGHT NOW! I don’t care if it’s dinnertime! MOAR APPLE!” And we only wanted to know the length of a Patagotitan.
Fortunately, rumours suggest Apple’s on the cusp of an AI revolution, to be unveiled this summer at WWDC 2024. I hope so. Although if anyone’s listening, I don’t need the world – right now, I’d just settle for answers to odd bits of obscure trivia.