34: Siri's cuteness problem

When Siri debuted in 2011, in addition to its breakthrough voice control features it also shipped with plenty of silly answers to silly questions. The motivation was clear: in order to convince ordinary people to talk to their phones, the robotic voice had to be humanized. Five years later, it's gone too far, as yesterday Apple leaked the dates for WWDC hours before the official announcement through yet another overly coy Siri response. As the news spread, people dropped thousands of dollars on nonrefundable plane tickets to attend a conference they aren't guaranteed admission to — and Siri "can't wait!"

Siri's flippant attitude infects the everyday too. I'm sick of Siri being the endpoint for all of Apple's dad joke humor. While Easter eggs are good fun and to be encouraged, playing everything as a joke is tone-deaf. I promise that I never want to hear that "a watched iPhone never boils." Even with Siri set to only speak when in hands-free mode (with headphones or a Bluetooth speaker connected), I've set enough timers to have heard it a hundred times. It wasn't funny the first time, and it's plain disrespectful now. Children who tell the same awful joke ad nauseum get put in timeout; insufferable human assistants get fired.

We shouldn't have to put up with time-wasting nonsense from virtual assistant technology, and even diehard Apple fans are looking for alternatives. Merlin Mann has been singing the praises of the new Hound app for iOS because it returns fast, no-frills results. Launching a separate app is no barrier when it's guaranteed to save time in the long run.

In addition, practically every week I listen to a podcast with a host who is a new convert to the Amazon Echo. Their primary reason for shouting out commands to Alexa rather than Siri is that the Echo returns results quicker and more succinctly — even compared to the device that's strapped to their wrist.

With this level of competition, it's clear that Siri has to grow up and improve its behavior. The rumors were already swirling that Siri will come to the Mac this year, and the wink-wink nudge-nudge WWDC announcement is just one more indication that they'll be correct. If Siri on Mac OS is a desktop laugh factory and non sequitur generator, it will only serve to make the Mac look unprofessional. The "you can't get serious work done on an iPad" trope could well spread across the product line, especially as other voice control products improve every day. As someone who weathered the Mac vs. PC wars of the 90s, I can hear critics dismissively saying, "Oh, Siri isn't a serious virtual assistant — those iPhones, iPads, and Macs are just toys." But Apple isn't the world's largest toymaker, and its customers are not all easily amused children. So hey, Siri, next time you want to tell a joke? Shut up. We have some work to do.