Robert Boler
service + software designer


Thoughts on design, behavior, technology, and inevitably Star Wars.

Siri’s Better Half

3-minute read

People love Siri. It’s hailed as the next major form of computer interaction past touch. Ask a thing, get the thing. No menus or buttons or reading. Just results. It’s like magic.

Also… People hate Siri. Its frequent (however increasingly less frequent) inability to hear us just right leads to angry repeated phrases and invites loads of parodies. (I personally limit my Siri requests to reliably basic reminders or timers, and I know several tech-savvy people who’ve simply given up altogether.) This is not a knock against Apple: Human speech is a mess, and they’re doing what they can to get Siri up to speed. But here’s a secret…

Sometimes typing is better than talking.

People are already more comfortable texting than calling. Our world typically comes with some background noise. And seeing someone dictate into their phone is still just plain tacky.

Casey Newton’s post The Search for the Killer Bot for The Verge on the rise of text-based “bots” made me realize something:

Siri is actually two things.

1. A pretty bad listener.
2. A pretty good doer.

Siri has its limitations, but the things it can accomplish, especially as it becomes evermore embedded in iOS, are pretty great. “Remind me every other Thursday to take out the recyclables… Show my photos from Nevada last July… When is sunset in Madrid?” These are fairly impressive queries.

Siri can often do something I’ve asked, but rarely hears what I asked to begin with.

As Newton argued, text is pretty great. Text is comfortable. Text messaging is normal for us. Text is searchable. Text is fast. Really fast. It’s certainly faster to send a few characters across the internet than an audio file that Siri to then transcribe into text while I wait. I’ve gone so far as to call up Siri for something trivial, just so I can tap what I said to change it to precisely what I want.

Dear Apple: Keep the voice. But give us a keyboard, too.

Here’s one way to do it:

"Siri for Messages"

Siri always mistakenly hears “kirby lane cafe” when I ask for my favorite pancake joint.

Siri always mistakenly hears “kirby lane cafe” when I ask for my favorite pancake joint.

Send a single text message to create an event

Send a single text message to create an event

Same awkward personality

Same awkward personality

The wins:

  • Nail a request on the first try.

  • Stop waiting for your voice to be transcribed.

  • Use Siri when in a loud environment.

  • Access your Siri request history as easily as you would message history.

The text-editing feature is already built as a secondary measure in the Siri interface. Now it just needs a place at the starting line.

Update: MacStories has included “textual Siri” in an iOS 10 wish list video they just posted. Glad it’s not just me.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Robert Boler