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As a staunch, long-time Apple fan—someone who's so precisely in their consumer wheelhouse it's a little embarrassing—it pains me to say that I'm frustrated by what I've seen from their products lately. Over the past few months, the world's most valuable company has disappointed me in a handful of ways:
1. iTunes Match, a theoretically awesome iTunes service that allows you (for about $25 per year) to stream your entire music library from the cloud on any device, is so temperamental and riddled with bugs that it's often more trouble than it's worth.
2. The iPhone 4S is definitely not perfect. Don't get me wrong; it's still clearly the LeBron of smartphones, and I wouldn't trade mine for anything. But it has crashed on me numerous times when trying to sync music and other files, it's clearly not the best handset in terms of placing and receiving phone calls, and the crummy battery life is kind of indefensible at this point. Maybe my expectations have been set too high, but still…
3. I've found Mac OS X Lion, which I only recently upgraded to, somewhat puzzling. Launchpad, for instance, which seems like an attempt to bring the iOS interface to the Mac to some degree, doesn't add much value to the UX. It looks cool, but it's not really worth using in lieu of the standard dock through which most Mac users access their apps.
But there's one factor that's bumming me out most by far these days as an "Apple guy"… It's the Siri commercials.
I'm sure many millions of words have been spewed into the blogosphere already about Apple's embarrassing, preposterous TV ads starring actors Zooey Deschanel, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Malkovich. Nonetheless, the more I see them, the more I wonder how Steve Jobs would have felt about the ads, and about Siri's reception in general so far. I'm inclined to agree with this Mashable story that quotes a former Apple employee who says Jobs "would have been embarrassed" by Siri.
Why do these ads fail, both as commercials in and of themselves, and as extensions of Apple's peerless brand? For starters, in the Zooey Deschanel spot, she asks Siri if it's raining, instead of consulting one of many nearby windows to SEE FOR HERSELF. Zooey chooses not to simply process the information that's right in front of her own dreamy eyes, instead opting to ask her smartphone a question about the current local weather, out loud, while alone in her little house. Has anyone watched this commercial and decided that this kind of ludicrous, antisocial behavior is something they aspire to? I sure hope not, because it's just about the most pointless use of voice recognition technology I can imagine.
Despite what Zooey would have us believe, though, Siri is not totally useless. When I first read about the technology, I figured it'd be neat to use it to dictate text messages while driving, for instance, or to look up information while your hands/eyes are otherwise occupied. This brings us to another spot from the ad campaign, the one with the legendary Samuel L. Jackson using Siri for help while preparing a romantic meal. Cooking, to me, is a good example of a situation in which Siri could logically be very helpful. If you're busy cooking and your hands are wet or messy with foodstuffs, you could press the button on your iPhone just once and theoretically get recipe information or whatever, using Siri with only your voice.
Trouble is, Sam's hands ARE free in the commercial—he's holding his iPhone up near his face and having a casual conversation with Siri. There's no reason why he couldn't find out how many ounces are in a cup by using Google, which would almost certainly turn up an answer quicker than Siri would. Most questions I've asked Siri myself have just led me to web search results pages anyway. So Sam, like Zooey, is basically just chatting with Siri for fun here, while at home by himself. Where's the value proposition? The way Siri is used in these ads reduces it to little more than a novelty, which seems to me like just the sort of thing that would drive Mr. Jobs nuts. Plus, are we really supposed to believe that this guy would use a phrase as pretentious as "organic mushrooms from Arizona"??? Actually, maybe he would. Dude is SUPER rich.
The point is that these ads are confusing, misguided, and obnoxious, and they lead me to question why Apple would throw so much of their weight behind Siri as a technology when they're clearly struggling to communicate the most logical, handy ways to use it. Siri is cool in theory, but until Apple finds a way to perfect it and convince consumers of its value, I don't see it moving past the point of being just a novelty. Much is made, and rightfully so, of Apple's branding strategy and focus on slick hardware and software design, but the primary reason they have such loyal supporters is that their products are often simply the most intuitive and reliable. Apple stuff is supposed to make our lives easier, and it's tough to see how Siri fits in with that.