updated 08:50 pm EDT, Tue October 11, 2011
Tests show great versatility, intelligence
From the CBS Evening News to individual users in Europe, a number of lucky people are getting their hands on an iPhone 4S and have started putting video-taped tests of the Siri technology up on YouTube and similar sites. Among the highlights of the various tests are the sounds of the UK Siri voice, which is quite a bit different than the U.S. voice; the answer to the question "what's the meaning of life?" and Siri's surprising response to the statement "I love you."
The initial testing seems to show that Siri has an excellent grasp of common English pronunciations without any special training required; it can be used immediately for questions and commands similar to those seen in the rollout demonstration last week as handled by Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller. Siri can understand what a user means when they say "what's the weather like today?" or "will I need an umbrella today," but more impressively can keep track of a place or person mentioned so that they don't have to be referred back to by name again. Users can even do other things in Siri and come back to the reference without mentioning it by name.
As part of a longer walkthrough of iOS 5 features on the iPhone 4S, a French users asks (in English) "silly" questions like "what's your name?" to which the voice replies "My name is Siri ... but you already knew that." When a question is asked that the Siri technology doesn't understand, it will gracefully offer to search the web or says it cannot help the user with that particular question.
CBS' John Blackstone found that Siri couldn't help with flight information, and the French user "Goran" found that when he asked Siri to be friends, it would only say "I respect you." When he told Siri "I love you," the service replied, "I hope you don't say that to those other mobile phones, Goran," indicating that someone at Siri or Apple has a good sense of humor.
Stuff.TV tested the iPhone 4S at the Covent Garden Apple Store in London and asked questions such as "what is 20 pounds in U.S. dollars?" and "how far away is the moon?" and got correct answers via Wolfram Alpha on both occasions. Siri also understands family connections if they are already established in Address Book, allowing users to say things like "send an e-mail to my sister" rather than having to name her.
Because the iPhone already understands where a user is located, one can say "what's the weather like?" rather than having to explain where they are. The British version of the voice used for Siri in the video is male and a bit more formal than the U.S. version.
Siri also has a fair amount of wisdom pre-loaded. When CBS' Blackstone asked if Siri knew the answer to the ultimate question, "What's the meaning of life," the computer wasted no time in telling him "Be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Try to read a good book now and then," a partial quote of the complete answer given in the 1983 Monty Python film The Meaning of Life.