Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Siri Turns Nine This Year

Nilay Patel asked his Apple Watch what time it was in London, and it responded with the current time in London, Ontario. Assuming Patel asked in New York, where his Twitter bio indicates that he lives, that would be the closest London, but almost certainly not the one he’s thinking of.

John Gruber asked the same question on two different devices. His iPhone also responded with the time in London, Ontario, but his HomePod told him the time in London, U.K.

This is clearly madness on every possible level. Why would Siri respond differently on different devices? Why would it not choose the more obvious geographic choice, rather than the small Canadian city that is in the same time zone as where Patel was asking from? If you want to be absolutely pedantic about it, Siri already has a way of clarifying ambiguity — but it should just assume that you want the time in one of the world’s most well-known cities.

What bugged me most about this, though, is that searching Maps locations through Siri and by keyboard entry frequently requires an unnecessary amount of precision. For years, getting directions to the Ikea location here in Calgary required typing “Ikea Calgary, Alberta”, otherwise it would consistently get directions to Ikea in Edmonton, about three hours away. Apple has fixed that now, but there are plenty of other times where it has directed me to similarly-named pizza joints and dry cleaners in the southern United States instead of mere blocks away. Why is Siri so eager to prioritize proximity for a query that is about time difference by distance, yet Maps search reliably thinks I want to travel many hours to get furniture or dinner?

Most egregious to me was that time, earlier this year, when Siri suggested an inconceivable day-long road trip instead of a route to my office. It got every possible aspect wrong of something I do with scheduled regularity. Given its age, inconsistency, slow response times, and unreliability, there is little doubt in my mind that Siri is one of modern Apple’s greatest software failures. I do not understand how, after a decade of development, it still struggles with fundamental expectations.