Apple’s absence from the smart speaker market is being corrected in early February with the release of the HomePod, but it won’t improve their fortunes in that market. It isn’t because HomePod is too expensive, or too late to the market, it’s because HomePod is handicapped by Siri. Sweet, but painfully useless Siri.
Here’s what’s finally sent me over the edge on Siri. This morning, my son asked to watch a specific episode of Wild Kratts. Now, for those who are not aficionados of scientific children’s television, the show is about the Kratt brothers and their “creature adventures”, where each episode is an animated adventure about a different ecosystem or species. My kiddo specifically requested “the draco lizard episode”. There are 12 seasons of Wild Kratts, and I wasn’t interested in scrolling through 12 seasons on Amazon, so I asked Siri:
And this was the answer:
That was … not helpful. So I asked Google (and for good measure, used the voice search on the Google app):
And here was the result:
For further thoroughness, I did the same search via Bing, since that is what powers Siri:
Basically, the issue we have here is not that the information was difficult to obtain. The issue is that Siri is simply unable to parse the request and turn it into a search. This is ironic considering the other day Siri tried to search Bing for the weather for me. So apparently Siri can happily search the web when I don’t need it, but when I do need it, she’s useless. Siri being so dense isn’t just a minor irritation, though, when the competition is significantly, significantly better.
I didn’t test an Alexa-enabled device, but I’m willing to bet Alexa would have understood my request, and I know that Google did. My request wasn’t an esoteric or difficult concept, and it was a perfect example of where a smart speaker can come in handy for a household, but Siri failed miserably. Yes, it’s great that your speaker can control the lights and the doorbell and the thermostat, but part of what makes it handy is for those everyday times when you just need a quick answer; Google made life easier, and Siri just created more work for me.
Worst of all for Apple, you can’t go anywhere without finding a speaker enabled with either Google Assistant or Alexa — last night I found a display of Alexa enabled speakers at my local Shop Rite. So I could pick up dog food, cold cuts, and a smart speaker that would actually do a decent job … why would I spend $350 on a HomePod?
Price, availability, and features are all obstacles for HomePod, but none of them will matter if Apple doesn’t improve Siri — it’s not the quality of the hardware that sells Alexa and Google Assistant devices, it’s that “it just works”…a phrase once used by Apple that sadly can’t be applied to their flagship assistant.