Siri creates legal woe for Apple

March 13, 2012

A New York man is suing Apple for allegedly being “misleading and deceptive” about Siri, iPhone 4S’s virtual personal assistant. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama reports:

“For example,” the suit reads, “in many of Apple’s television advertisements, individuals are shown using Siri to make appointments, find restaurants and even learn the guitar chords to classic rock songs or how to tie a tie.” According to the plaintiff, Frank M. Fazio, the commercials have misled him to buy the iPhone 4S to get Siri but that he has had a lot of trouble using the software. The lawsuit claims that Apple’s advertisements are “fiction.”

Apple declined to comment on pending litigation.

The company has said — as the lawsuit notes — that Siri is a beta product and that the software is evolving. Personally, I haven’t had that much trouble getting Siri to set appointments and alarms for me, though I have trained myself to request that Siri “Search the Web for...” because that’s normally where I’m directed. Other bloggers have documented some problems I’ve had with Siri, and voice-control software in general, including that sometimes they just have no idea what you’re saying. (See: Gizmodo’s Mat Honan on Siri’s failed attempt to play “coal train.”)

Still, I had no trouble getting Siri to do some of the things the lawsuit mentions, such as in the commercial “Rock God”where Siri shows the protagonist how to play a B-minor ninth. And, unlike Fazio, I’ve had very few issues setting reminders and appointments.

And it looks as if the virtual assistant has some room for improvement when you compare it with its Japanese competitor, Shabette Concier. The Verge reports:

Apple added Japanese support for Siri in its most recent software update, iOS 5.1, but it appears that the voice-activated assistant doesn't perform as well as competing service Shabette Concier from NTT Docomo. YouTube user ysm7651 pits the two head-to-head (video) and finds that Siri has a couple of important shortcomings. Noticeably, its language processing doesn't seem to handle colloquial speech as well as Shabette Concier and there isn't support for maps or location lookup for restaurants and hospitals yet. It also appears that Siri takes more time to process requests than its competitor, although this could have more to do with differences in the two networks than in the underlying software.

In our experience, while Siri offers most of the same functionality in Japanese as it does in English, there are definitely some areas for improvement. Reading and creating messages, looking up the weather, and performing web searches all work roughly as well in both languages, but we did run into some bugginess when we tried to move calendar appointments around (Siri refused to process a grammatically correct response to a prompt). The service sometimes had some notable issues processing our Japanese, although this is likely due in part to the combination of our English accents and the relative frequency of homophones in the language. The point has also been made that Shabette Concier is much better at finding recipes than Siri, which is due to its integration with Japan's Cookpad recipe service. A particular omission is Siri's inability to tap into Wolfram Alpha in Japanese, which means the service is limited to a simple web search, even for questions about math and science. To be fair, Shabette Concier can't access Wolfram Alpha either, though — it's limited to Wikipedia searches.

Right now it seems that the home-grown Shabette Concier has several advantages over Siri in Japan, but it's hard to imagine that this will slow the iPhone's huge momentum in the country. Four of the top ten phones sold in January were different flavors of the iPhone 4S, and the total sales share across all of them was almost double that of the Arrows X LTE from Fujitsu, the country's top-selling handset that month. In any case, we're interested to see how quickly Apple invests in its Japanese Siri service, and are looking forward to closer feature parity with its English offering over time.

In other iPhone news, an LTE model may be coming later this year. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Now that the iPad has the ability to run on 4G LTE networks in the U.S. on Verizon and AT&T, Apple fans are naturally wondering whether that functionality will hit the next model of the iPhone.

According to Taiwanese tech site Digitimes, a prolific and sometimes accurate rumormonger, its checks with Apple suppliers indicate that the next iPhone is “very likely” to support LTE, pushing up the sales of LTE smartphones to 45-50 million.

Of course, we’ve been through this song and dance already, but it seems a bit more likely to come true given the fact that LTE technology is now in the iPad. And with carriers building out their LTE networks at a fast pace, a 4G iPhone would have much more coverage than even the 4S did. Not to mention that Apple appears to have worked out some of the battery issues that plague 4G devices, if its claim to nine hours of battery life for the 4G iPad are any indication.

According to the Digitimes report, checks place the iPhone’s release date somewhere in the “second half of 2012,” leaving no real indication as to whether Apple will return to its summer release schedule or release the next iPhone in the fall again.

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