Walt Mossberg Slams Siri’s Limited Talents, Calls it ‘Unreliable’

In a lengthy new article at Recode, veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg has slammed Apple’s voice controlled virtual assistant Siri, calling it “too limited” and “unreliable” to be an effective weapon for the company in the coming AI wars. “When was the last time Siri delighted you with a satisfying and surprising answer or action?”, he writes, adding that for him and many other people, it’s been years. He also said that Apple has wasted its lead with Siri, with Google, Amazon, and Microsoft catching up fast.


Mossberg points out that Siri’s huge promise has been shrunk to just making voice calls and sending messages to contacts, and maybe to getting the occasional weather info using voice commands. He also highlights that if you try and treat Siri like a truly intelligent assistant, it often fails, even though Apple presentations and its Siri website suggest otherwise.

He continues that although Apple claims Siri is focused on enabling you “to work with your device in a hands-free way”, in his tests it even fails or is inconsistent too often, when relying on data that’s right on the device or in iCloud.

Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major-party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series.

When I asked, “What is the weather on Crete?” Siri gave me the weather for Crete, Illinois, a small village which — while I’m sure it’s great — isn’t what most people mean when they ask for the weather on Crete, the famous Greek island.

Google Now, on the same Apple devices, using the same voice input, answered every one of these questions clearly and correctly. And that isn’t even Google’s latest digital helper, the new Google Assistant.

I completely agree with Mossberg and I’m sure most of you would as well. It’s about time Apple starts taking Siri’s development seriously, or else it may just end up firing a bunch of engineers holding them responsible for it, just like it did with the original Apple Maps.

“Technology runs through my veins...” | Follow me: @DrUsmanQ usman@iPhoneinCanada.ca

  • Tim Stewart

    That’s kind of the Apple way now.

    It used to be that they would wait until they can do the technology right, release it to great fanfare, and then slowly but relentlessly iterate upgrades while killing off legacy tech. But, now they start the same way but have dropped the iterative improvements and then (to throw in a couple metaphors) let it die on the vine while they rest on their laurels. Why push innovations (that people want) when you can “courageously” coast on the goodwill built within the community surrounding your brand to keep people buying the “new” versions.

    I’ve loved nearly all my Apple products (I had an iPad 3), but I’m finding less and less compelling value with each new product when I compare to their competitors.

  • Nilay

    100% Agree that Siri has become more and more unreliable day by day, So I dont use it apart from weather/timer/alarm..
    For this particular question “Who is democratic candidate for president?” looks like Apple has updated its system right away as when I tried now,

    Siri(As given)- Hillary Clinton is the 2016 democratic Party nominee for president.

    Google- Showing Wikipedia Article reference but it does not highlight the name anyway.

    Google Allo(Google Assistant)- Shows 4763 delegates votes to the democratic national…and some web reference

    Hound- Showing some web search result

    Alexa- Hillary clinton is the democratic nominee for president in the 2016 election. Her running mate is Tim Kaine.

  • SOB

    I thought with IOS 10 Siri is supposed to be alot smarter. I haven’t seen it.

  • Tim

    I normally am the first to tell Walt Mossberg to go away, but I agree with him here.

  • MrXax

    He’s right. Siri is a failure. She often misunderstands what I’m saying (speaking clear, native English), and rarely provides me with accurate or helpful information.

  • Horacio

    Maybe Apple fixed it after Mossberg’s article, but if you ask the same question now you get the right answer.
    I don’t use Siri other than to set up an alarm, call or text someone.

  • Decodering

    I agree with Tim Stewart — Apple has lost some of its mojo.

    For me, one of the biggest frustrations for me is that Apple doesn’t keep up the specs on anything now except for the iPhone (and iPad, to a lesser degree). It’s become almost embarrassing since even simple things like updating processors aren’t done in its Macs despite the long wait between versions. It’s not that I think there should be a brand-new version of Macs every year like there used to be, as machines have become more capable and software more mature. But to not even update the processor and graphics card at the same time a new version of Mac OS comes out (to ensure optimal performance) but continue to charge the same prices for behind-the-puck tech is poor service.

    I don’t know, but Apple just doesn’t inspire me any more. I bought an iPhone 7 (which I really do like), but only after thinking seriously about trying an Android phone. I stayed with Apple for security reasons, worry about software/OS upgrade cycles, and for a general distrust of Google. But had there been a real alternative, I would have tried switching. And I can’t really see the value in buying a new Mac; for less money, I can buy an older machine — one in which I can actually replace the hard drive and install memory myself — that will be just as satisfying and useful.

  • BigCat

    I like Walt and I do not disagree with his points, but honestly you could say this about any new technology.

    Hey Walt, NASA should have had a manned mission to Mars by now, but guess what it’s hard?

    Seriously, at this point in time who has AI working really well? AI and its development is still just barely taking baby steps. The spell check feature in Microsoft Word still makes mistakes, but it is also still worth using.

    From time to time I have been very unhappy with Apple. But times people forget how much things have improved and the number of features that just quietly work perfectly.

  • Comparing Siri to the new Google Assistant, Apple’s solution pales in comparison. Siri needs to improve beyond basic commands.

  • BigCat

    Gary there is no dispute that Google Assistant is better and funner to use. Personally, I don’t find any of the current AI’s to be a goto type solution.

    I guess my post was probably brought on by my inner Apple Fan Boy.

    Some have indicated that the Siri development program has been curtailed by self governance over the use of personal data. Maybe Apple will need to put their hand in the cookie jar.

  • Walt basically said what everybody was thinking. We’re all waiting for Apple’s next AI breakthrough. But how much longer will we have to wait is the question.

    I agree on the privacy part, wonder how Apple will figure this out. Maybe an opt-in solution to partake in giving up data for the sake of Siri development?