My day with Siri

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Once the kids are asleep, my wife and I occasionally pick a movie to watch. Generally our choices are limited to what's streaming on Netflix or HBO Go, but we let Siri help narrow our selections: "What's a good comedy starring Jennifer Aniston?" More often, we use Siri to tell us whether a movie we're considering is worth watching: "Is the movie Rumor Has It any good?"

I have three young kids, so I only very rarely see a movie in an actual theater. When I do, though, I can now rely on Siri's knowledge of what's playing (which, like its knowledge of who stars in which movies, comes from Rotten Tomatoes). As with Yelp, the quality of the data you get from such queries will depend on how well Rotten Tomatoes covers your area. When I ask about movies playing near here, Siri performs beautifully. When a colleague in the San Francisco Bay Area asks for that information, Siri returns incomplete or erroneous data--more movies than the theater has screens, for example, or results for theaters too many miles away.

When it's finally time to retire for the evening, I don't use Siri to set an alarm for the next morning. I have kids for that. On those rare occasions when I need to wake up even before they do, or when I'm traveling, I turn to Siri one last time: "Wake me at 5:30 a.m."

Throughout the day

I like launching apps with Siri, because it's generally faster even than using Spotlight search. You can say "Launch Facebook," "Open Tweetbot," or "Play Angry Birds." If you want to open the camera, you can say "Take a picture," though that's not necessarily faster than using the Camera lock-screen shortcut.

If you tell Siri "Do not disturb," it understands that you're alluding to the new feature in iOS 6 to mute alerts and notifications, but it can't enable that feature for you: Instead, it will helpfully provide a link to that setting.

Which is to admit that, as helpful as Siri is, I still have plenty of items on my Siri wish list that it hasn't learned to handle. For example, you can't use Siri to add or edit contacts, to go directly to specific websites, or to explicitly control third-party apps. And Siri still can't toggle settings like Bluetooth.

As mentioned above, Siri flails when you try to ask about athletes or movie stars with unusual names it can't transcribe. And its information is generally only as good as its providers can offer.

When Siri understands you on the first try, and when its answers are accurate, it's awesome, and indistinguishable from magic. When it needs multiple tries to understand you, or when its answers are no good, Siri brings back unpleasant Newton memories.

That said, with Siri's gains in iOS 6--not to mention back-end improvements that seem to have Siri understanding me better than ever--it has become an even more indispensable way for me to interact with my iOS devices. Despite its occasional shortcomings, I'm grateful that it's there.

This story, "My day with Siri" was originally published by Macworld.

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