Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Speechless

A good piece from Jeffrey Mincey:

So, Siri on the Mac is a good thing, right? After all, if Siri gets used in the car, while rummaging around with chores at home, or even watching Apple TV, then Siri on the Mac must be another blessing. Right?

Oh. You haven’t used Siri on the Mac much, either, huh?

Yeah. Me, too. And I’m not exactly sure why. The keyboard shortcut works perfectly, as does the click to the Siri icon in the Menubar. No complaints. Siri opens apps and performs a few other parlor tricks but I’ve decided that my use and workflow on the Mac is different than on the iPhone or iPad, and definitely on Watch, so that distinction inhibits Siri usage on the Mac.

I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between screen size and my use of Siri. I rely upon Siri all the time on my Watch,1 frequently on my iPhone, and almost never on my iPad and Mac. Maybe it’s something to do with the utility of a larger display and full-sized keyboard, or my habitual commitment to a computer workflow that hasn’t ever included a voice assistant.

Despite this, I have been pleasantly surprised by a few of the things I’ve done with Siri. A couple of days ago, I wanted to play a genre-based radio station while I was cooking dinner. I found it far easier to invoke Siri and tell it what I wanted to listen to than to futz around with iTunes. Whether that speaks more to the directness of Siri or the complexity of iTunes, I’m not sure. But its ability to untangle the keyboard-and-mouse paradigm of computing is something I imagine less experienced users would be appreciative of as well.

Another area where Siri on the Mac has potential is to improve the system’s accessibility. But, as Steven Aquino pointed out back in June, it doesn’t quite cut it yet:

I’m a stutterer, which causes me a lot of social anxiety. It’s hard at times to converse with people because of it, out of fear of judgment or shame that I inevitably will stutter. Sometimes I get so nervous that I will talk as little as possible (or avoid it altogether) because of my speech. I share these feelings not to garner pity or sympathy, but rather to explain how stuttering affects me emotionally.

Siri isn’t a real person, of course, but the fact of the matter is voice-driven interfaces are built assuming normal fluency. This is to be expected: most people don’t stutter, but I (and many others) do, so using Siri can be incredibly frustrating. So, while accuracy has gotten better over time, there’s no getting around the fact abnormal speech patterns like mine don’t mesh well with Siri. It wreaks havoc on the experience.

I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be. And it’s not like users are going to keep trying Siri with every update, either: like all software, if something doesn’t work as expected, they’re less likely to try other things.


  1. Or, at least, I use it all the time when I’m at home. It’s still embarrassing for me to talk to my wrist in public. ↩︎