The Siri Standard

John Gruber writes about his impression that Siri’s performance has improved over the past year:

Siri is noticeably faster than it used to be. Even just a year ago, I don’t think Siri could have held its own with Google Now pulling information like the current temperature or sports scores, but today, it does. Apple has clearly gotten much better at something everyone agreed was a serious weakness.

Michael Tsai chimes in with agreement, emphasizing improvements in reliability:

I had stopped using it because for years it would essentially throw away what I’d said. It was either unavailable (most of the time) or it didn’t understand me properly (less often). Now I regularly use it to make reminders while driving, and it pretty much always works.

I use Siri in much the same way that John and Michael seem to: for quick, relatively simple data inquiries, text messages, timers, and reminders. I share their impression that Siri has gotten faster and more reliable. It was most striking for me when I first updated to the iPhone 6:

I’m really impressed with the speed and accuracy of Siri on my iPhone 6. It’s exciting to know that Apple is making such progress on this.

Which is not to say Siri is perfect or doesn’t cause frustration to me and others. I use it frequently enough that I’m probably stymied by its misinterpretation of my command at least once a day. But the consequences of the misbehavior are usually not dire, and can be remedied right away. Usually it’s just a matter of sighing and rephrasing the command with a structure that I know will be “more Siri compatible.” And every so often, I say something instinctively before remembering “oh, that doesn’t work with Siri,” but before I’ve had a chance to cancel and restate it, I discover that in fact, it now does work with Siri. I know some people will have horror stories about Siri’s behavior, but for me, and apparently many others, It’s quietly improving all the time.

How many other Apple technologies are earning this kind of unsolicited praise right now? Especially in light of recent discussions about perceptions of a steady decline in quality, the progress by Apple in the Siri department is particularly noticeable.

What if all of Apple’s high-impact technologies were improving so demonstrably that folks were moved to praise the progress? What would the usually gripe-filled Apple blogging, Twittering, and forum-posting scene sound like? Let’s indulge the dream that these enthusiastic posts might grace the web someday soon:

It’s been weeks since I restarted any of my Airport routers. File sharing between my Macs “just works.” Great work, Apple!

Continuity and AirDrop have become so reliable, I actually worry more about data getting lost by emailing it to myself than by beaming it instantly with Bluetooth.

Just deleted Google Maps from my phone. Apple has work to do with placemarks, but these new transit directions are awesome! A huge step above what we lost years ago, and I’m so much more comfortable having Apple handle my private location data.

Tried to backup my phone to iCloud, and Apple says I’m 2GB over my storage limit. It’s cool that they do the backup anyway, and give you 30 days to decide whether to upgrade the plan or download the backup archive. Seems like upgrading is a no-brainer?

No serious complaints about my apps for a year, so Apple just updated my account to “Solo” status. It’s so great to publish updates immediately to my customers. This is a privilege and a responsibility!

OK, OK. Some of these may be a little over the top. But, a boy can dream, can’t he?

I don’t doubt that the groups at Apple responsible for these … less often praised … technologies are comprised of individuals striving to improve things as quickly as possible. It’s hard to say how much the impression of slow progress is due to internal challenges we don’t know about, Apple’s lack of knowledge about the breadth of defects, or the public’s perception being skewed by severity of the impact from problems that persist.

Whatever combination of luck, hard work, and pragmatism is powering the Siri team’s “year of good work,” perhaps it should serve as a model, or at least as a symbol of hope for these teams as they move forward adding features, fixing bugs, and finessing the public’s perception of the value of their work. A world in which every group at Apple somehow achieved the standard of apparent progress that Siri has achieved would be a very good world indeed.