Amongst the Apple nerds and pundits, Siri is one of the most disliked Apple technologies. It’s been a constant complaint for years. “I found this on the web, check it out” is the most commonly repeated quote to deride the experience of using Siri. I’ve certainly gotten that response more than a few times.

But I still use Siri everyday with generally excellent results. Unlike popular AI chatbots that suggest eating rocks and glue, Siri actually performs simple tasks effectively and provides helpful facts and information when I request it.

I’ll illustrate with the following Siri exchange I had yesterday afternoon. I was on a walk and my neighbors were sitting outside so I stopped for a few minutes to visit. During the conversation they asked if I’d watched any interesting movies or shows recently. At some point in the ensuing conversation about movies and tv shows something they said reminded me of a Denzel Washington movie I couldn’t remember the title of. After sharing a few things about the movie with them the title had not come to me so, via Air Pods to my iPhone I said “Siri, Denzel Washington was in a movie around 2005 that was set in New Orleans and involved time travel, what was it?”

Siri responded with the correct answer and a short 20 second summary of the movie, something like “Denzel Washington stared in Deja Vu in 2006…” followed by a few sentences of context and the source being used. Perhaps more than I needed to know but really, I’d say it was the perfect response. And that’s not unusual in my experience.

Which brings me to my contrary opinion: Siri is not nearly as bad as the Apple nerds describe. In fact, I’ve found it to be an excellent addition to my Apple devices and I use it many times a day. It feels to me that the Siri trope is the companion of the iPad amongst the Apple nerd herd as that “thing we can complain about most reliably”. And it’s only gotten worse with the arrival of ChatGBT over the past 20 months because, you know, eating rocks and adding Elmers glue to pizza is excellent advice.

Now, this is not me suggesting Siri is perfect. It’s not. But the weird-ass group think going on in what passes for tech media these days is a bit bizarre. The echo chamber conclusion is that AI (primarily exemplified by ChatGBT and similar products available from Microsoft and Google), though flawed, is a real thing and that Apple better get on board quick. Apple’s being left behind! Yes, please, Apple, do improve Siri with AI so I can get the same high quality nutritional content that others are getting.

The same pundits that spent a week freaking out about Apple’s recent “Crush” ad, suggesting that it was tone deaf at a time that big tech is is seen to be disrespecting artists and creators are, yes, yes, wait for it, really, this is delicious, are the same pundits that are also freaking out because Apple is “behind in AI” and must do something before it’s too late.

Unfortunately the rumors are all pointing to Apple succumbing to the pressure. WWDC is less than two weeks away so we’ll soon know what their plans are. My hope is that they’ll be conservative in their integration with AI and not be led around by the hype.

As it is today I get great use and value from Siri many times a day. Here’s a list of my most common daily requests (and these work nearly perfectly):

  • Control HomeKit devices.
  • Send a text followed by dictation of the text.
  • Add to a list in reminders or calendar events.
  • Pause, play or fast forward in the podcast app.
  • Run Shortcuts.
  • Unit conversions, usually for cooking.
  • Math questions.
  • Make a call.
  • Start a timer.
  • Get the weather forcast.
  • Play music.
  • Play the most recent episode of my usual podcast subscriptions. I usually start the day requesting that Siri play the most recent episode of Democracy Now!

Less predictable but often still useful are requests for information. If the question has an answer that is a short and specific fact it’s very likely that Siri will read and present a Siri knowledge pop-up, providing the information directly, often with a link to a secondary menu with more detailed information. Movie/actor questions and astronomy and space facts are two examples where Siri performs very well and reliably.

In fact, I want to highlight how well Siri does in providing quick space and astronomy facts. Here’s a tiny sample of questions that will almost always be answered perfectly in a Siri Knowledge pop-up with an optional link to details to the source:

  • Distance of planets
  • Size or mass of a particular galaxy
  • Chemical make-up of the atmosphere of a particular planet or moon.
  • Basic solar system definitions/features like what is the Oort Cloud?
  • How long is a Mars year?
  • What is the diameter of the Asteroid Belt in our solar system?

It goes on and on. If you’re someone interested in NASA missions Siri’s got that covered pretty well:

  • When was NASA’s Voyager mission launched?
  • Show me images related to NASA’s Cassini mission?
  • Does NASA have a planned mission to Enceladus? (One of Saturns moons and a candidate for life in our solar system).
  • How many NASA missions have there been to Jupiter?
  • What was the name of the mission sent to Pluto?

Again, the list of possibilities for this line of inquiry goes on and on. Because Siri is tapping into Wikipedia and similar sources any line of inquiry that involves areas of science will likely provide helpful results. Same for historical figures and history. If Wikipedia has a page for a topic it’s very likely that Siri will tap into it and provide a specific answer for your question from that page. Some examples:

  • Who was Claude Monet?
  • Who discovered Uranium?
  • How was Uranium discovered?
  • What was the Haymarket Massacre?

What I appreciate about how Siri works in this context is that basic facts are provided with just a bit of necessary context all in a Siri knowledge window and a link to the source, often something like Wikipedia. The downside of the current implementation is that there is no option for a permanent app window with a retention of answers. This is something the chat format of the new AI apps gets right. It would be helpful for Siri to have it’s own window with a history so that I can collect the answers I’m getting for quick reference.

While this is not GPT type AI it is far more accurate and useful in a way that pundits don’t seem to acknowledge. I’m left to wonder, have they actually used it?

Another area where Siri does well is specific requests regarding nearby destinations: parks, restaurants, shops, etc. Siri will provide fairly helpful results with hours, phone number, website and location in Maps.

If your questions are open ended Siri will refer you to a generic web search results page. For example, ask for a recipe for hummus or, say, the best fertilizer for a blueberry bush? Web search results. This is where people are finding a use for ChatGBT and related services because they skip search results and provide a summary of search solutions in a paragraph form. Of course this is also where the inaccuracies and hallucinations are introduced.

I do think there’s room for Apple do more in this space. But this pundit meme that Siri is useless and needs a complete AI infused rebuild ignores what Siri does well while also ignoring the downsides of current chat-based AI.