The Siri hierarchy of needs

I was reading a Medium post by John Ganotis, entitled, Siri commands that should work on watchOS, but don’t:

Siri on watchOS is useful for handsfree interactions, especially when one command can skip multiple physical steps. But I’m regularly finding commands that should be feasible with Siri and don’t work. I decided to start documenting them here.

First off, this is an interesting read. I’d think it’d have value for the Siri team, though I suspect they already have a list like this, and that their list is much more comprehensive.

I am a huge fan of Siri. I do think Siri, like most useful technologies, suffers from its own Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We love it when we first start to use it but, over time, we start to become aware of how incredibly useful it could be. As we move up this Siri needs hierarchy, we become more and more focused on the missing detail, ignoring all the working pieces.

I use Siri constantly. There are plenty of fails, but I keep a model in my head of what works well, what elements of Siri I can count on.

Perhaps my biggest Siri dependence: I constantly ask Siri to schedule meetings, calls, and reminders. I use many variants on time, including things like day after tomorrow, a week from Thursday, in an hour, like that. I also use “when I get home” a lot. Though there are occasional glitches, almost always with Siri understanding my words, I find this technology very dependable.

Scheduling is at the core of the Siri hierarchy. There are many more examples at that level. General queries that are keyword driven and domain specific. Asking about the weather, the result of last night’s baseball game, requests to do well identified things like set a timer or to give directions to a specific address.

The higher you go in the hierarchy, the less dependable Siri will be. The more context comes into play, the larger the domain of possibilities, the higher the odds that Siri will either be unfamiliar with a concept, or that Siri will misinterpret your intentions.

The problem is one of expectations. As visions of what could be, should be possible come into view, the more we expect from Siri. At the same time, as our Apple gear grows ever more sophisticated, the set of possible Siri interfaces grows, and grows exponentially.

I can only imagine how hard the Siri team is working on both keeping up with the growing list of demands, and working on more future-proof, general purpose, AI-driven approaches that can move Siri into the future.

Personally, I find it helpful to think about how hard this problem is, to appreciate what we’ve got, to not get sucked into that vortex of expectation.

  • What I want is a ‘done’ command while I’m dictating – some sort of verbal way to say I’m done dictating. Needed both on watch and phone/pad.

    • John Ganotis

      On the watch, have you tried flipping your wrist over, so the watch screen is facing down, to indicate you’re “done”? I’m not sure if it’s just a placebo, but I figured that might trick the watch into thinking it should turn the screen off and stop listening. It seems to work pretty well for me consistently even though it looks kind of stupid.

  • RodoBobJon

    Great post Dave. I’ve said before that people need to stop thinking about Siri as though it’s a person. It’s a computer UI, and it needs to be learned just like any computer UI. Neither Siri, Alexa, nor Google Assistant is anywhere close to being a general AI, and as you said, users need to maintain a rough mental model of the types of commands they can handle in order to use them effectively.

    But to be fair to users who expect Siri to act like a person, Apple’s original marketing for Siri is largely to blame for this expectation.

  • sfmitch

    Overall, I like Siri. I find scheduling, initiating phone calls and sending texts (while driving) to be the features I use most.

    My biggest gripe is when Siri just doesn’t work (beeps, screen changes but my speech never gets transcribed). This only happens when I am on cellular but the problem does happen when I have 2 or more cellular bars.

    Also, I am surprised at how little Siri has evolved since release (beta released 6 years ago).

  • James Hughes

    Just bring back the alert letting me know that Siri is listening. Why Apple ever made it silent is beyond me. Too many time Siri will say “go ahead, I’m listening” when in fact it wasn’t or was but for only a fraction of a second.

    • Herding_sheep

      Did Siri ever have an audible alert tone on watchOS? I don’t recall it ever having sound.

      Or do you mean on iPhone? The alert tone is played when invoked with “Hey Siri,” while pressing the home button to invoke gives you haptics instead. Reason being, if you’re holding the home button, you’re obviously holding the device and can feel the haptics.

  • Eugene

    I wish I could correct Siri’s spelling of a word I said by spelling it out. And to this day, I still ask Siri to call my wife in the same way I did before Siri when it was just voice commands, “Call my wife, iPhone”.

  • John Ganotis

    Thanks for mentioning my post! I actually just added around of updates: