November 11th, 2011
Obviously for filing under first world problems.
I have not, until a month ago, had a smartphone. I joined the rest of the people I knew in the modern world when I bought an iPhone 4S. This is somewhat amusing, as three years spent in IT left me with Facebook and Google+ feed full of people posting reasons they won’t ever buy another Apple or MS product. Well whatever, I got a damned iPhone, and those friends can deal.
For the first two weeks, Siri actually did a fantastic job recognizing the names of my friends. I was flat out amazed. It did it right out of the box, and never seemed to miss a beat. But over the past two weeks, results have progressively declined in value. My wife’s name is Kelli. She spells it with an i, and I tease her for it. But Siri handled it just fine until a week an a half ago. Then I would ask it to call Kelli, and it would say I didn’t have any contacts named Kelly. It stuck to this, and eventually I got it to work around based on using both first and last name. Now Siri insists that it can’t call anyone named Kelly McCloud. It handled my last name just fine last week. It brings up, a list of my family members, all spelled Macleod, as an example of how it doesn’t have any McClouds, but it could call one of these other wastrels if you want. But fuck all if you want to call someone on that list, it won’t do it. You have to add the layer of telling it, no, you idiot, you pronounce it right when you read it out to me but you insist on some other spelling.
It’s really this break between the insistence on spelling while still being able to correctly pronounce the names that makes it infuriating. Two of my best friends ever are named Eric and Erik. I will continue to omit their last names, but those are different. When I ask that it call Erik 2 it says it doesn’t have an Erik, but it could call Eric 1 or Erik 2. Note that I use his full name to give it context. It pronounces both first and last back to me, saying it doesn’t have an Eric 2 but it could call x where Erik 2. So, it really gets it all right, but insists that no one would ever name their child Erik or Kelli.
I understand that when two spellings are pronounced the same way, it has to make a choice for display, but it sees that there is an alternate spelling in my contacts list, indexes that alternate spelling, suggests that alternate spelling, but insists that the only valid spelling of the pronounced names Erik and Kelli is Eric and Kelly.
The overall effect is darkly comical. Siri is the spelling police. No you crazy Americans with your alternate name spellings, Siri draws a line in the sand, a line that says Erik is wrong. Only hateful idiots would use a spelling other than the Siri approved one. Have you considered misspelling the names of your friends in Siri to get them to index correctly? Siri would like you to consider doing that.
I’ve read over this, and I think I’m having a hard time expressing how surreal it feels. I just said: “Call Kelli Macleod” and Siri replies with audio and text: “I don’t have a Kelly McCloud, but perhaps you meant one of these “Jamie Macleod or Kelli Macleod” and reads those names to me with correct pronunciation. Madness. I would have just said, “Oh well, it’s voice technology and it’s not quite there yet” if it had not worked perfectly well two weeks ago.