94: iOS 12 wish – Siri self-awareness

It goes without saying that Siri has a lot of catching up to do. Anyone who hasn’t given up on it entirely will want to see significant improvements in iOS 12. I’m not too optimistic, so I’m asking for something smaller: just a little self-awareness.

I’m not talking about eliminating the dad jokes, though that would be wonderful. All I’m asking for is some simple connect-the-dots, making Siri not look oblivious when asked basic information about the device it’s running on. There are several pieces of information that are available onscreen in built-in, Apple-created apps, that Siri completely falls down when asked about.

If you’ve ever been to the Apple store for a repair on your iPhone, you know the first thing they ask is whether you’ve backed it up to iCloud. Genius Bar techs have memorized the four-tap sequence they need to access this information in Settings, but think how much time that wastes in the aggregate! Yet asking Siri, "When was my last iCloud backup?" produces one of three unhelpful responses.

"Everything you need to know about Apple products is at Apple's website."

What does that have to do with iCloud?

"Apple.com should be able to answer that question, and more."

You know that icloud.com is a thing, right?

"Allow me to direct you to Apple's rather fabulous website."

For that one, they really punched up the smugness factor in the voice improvements made in iOS 11. And all of these are failures to parse the question. In fact, they are keying on the word iCloud and ignoring the rest. Just saying “iCloud” alone produces the same stock phrases.

I’ll grant that this request has some moderate degree of difficulty (remote data needs to be loaded) and limited use outside of a support context. But what about purely on-device data for one of iPhone’s flagship features: health and fitness? Don’t bother asking Siri…

"How many steps have I taken today?"

"I can't answer that on your iPhone, but you can find it in the Health app."

I am still mystified by this answer. My phone is unlocked. This data is 100% available to me. The steps are logged by the accelerometer in the phone itself (I don’t have an Apple Watch). And what possible definition of “on your iPhone” excludes the Health app which is on the homescreen of that phone? At least you can open the app by simply commanding, “Open Health.”

Even that didn’t used to be the case with the Home app. For years, most commands with the word “home” got routed to the HomeKit or Maps APIs, making it impossible to launch the app via Siri at all. I reproduced this as recently as a few days ago, but it seems to be fixed at the time of writing/recording. Well, unless you have another app installed that has a similar name.

“Open Home.”

“Which of these would you like? Home … or … Home – Smart Home Automation?”


“Just swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get home.”

Maddening. Don’t let Apple tell you that they’ve added support for follow-up questions to Siri. When the Siri prompt sounds, it’s actually starting again from zero. You can ask “What’s the weather?” in response to the follow-up, and it will go fetch the forecast. A simple problem that should be constrained to two choices is instead opened up to the entire universe of possible commands, inviting poor results.

So this is all I ask: Siri, please listen to yourself. Please learn about where you live. Do your homework, and we can talk again this summer.