Hey Siri?

As with most mornings, I was running late yesterday and one of my many alarms went off while I was still in the shower. The phone is usually within arms reach, but in my fog of trying to wake up, I hadn’t left it where I usually do. Instead of stepping out and making the stretch to grab it, I tried something that usually doesn’t work with any background noise whatsoever…

Hey Siri,” I shouted, as quietly as possible, “turn off my alarm.

She sprang to life on the very first try …but didn’t quite do what I asked. Instead of stopping the alarm that was currently happening, she asked which, out of my impressive array of morning alarms, I wanted to turn off. The screen lit up with a list of every alarm with a green toggle next to it and she waited for my response.

Although it took an extra step, it did work, so I decided to try Siri a few more times throughout the day. Changing my AirPod volume, calling someone instead of finding their contact card, even shooting a text back while driving. I almost considered pushing the Siri button on my MacBook, just to see how it worked, but I was still at the office and I’m nowhere near brave enough to talk to her within earshot of other human beings.

But this morning, when another alarm interrupted my oft delayed shower, I couldn’t get Siri to respond to any volume or inflection of the “Hey Siri” trigger. Even turning off the shower and leaning out over the phone did no good; so I tapped my soapy finger on the screen and felt a little stupid for even trying.

That, to me, is the worst case scenario for AI assistants: day-to-day inconsistencies. Maybe it’s my mid-western guilt, but being unable to achieve regular results with voice commands feels like my fault, not Apple’s. Why? Because I got it to work yesterday, so I know that Siri can do what I want. And I know the phone can hear me, because it worked from the shower just yesterday… which means it must be something I did wrong. So my brain spins through my possible failings, looking for a clue as to what went wrong.

Did I not speak clearly?

Did I leave the phone in a bad spot?

Did I forget to thank her and now she’s salty?!

It’s this kind of inconsistency, the type that leads to self-doubt, which drives people away from new features, devices, or just about anything else. If a kitchen knife won’t keep its edge, you stop reaching for it because you know you’ll have to grab a second knife anyway. And if your voice commands become frustrating instead of novel/useful, you stop using them and reach for the phone with your wet, soapy hands, because you know it will get the job done on the first try.

I’m not giving up, because it felt cool to live in Star Trek’s vision of the future… plus I want to solve the problem of how to get her to respond with regularlity. But I hope the girlfriend never hears me screaming “Hey Siri” at 7am with varying degrees of volume and inflection, because the embarrassment might honestly kill me.

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