Siri needs to get serious

OPINION: Apple CarPlay could help put Siri back on top of the voice-control premier league

When it was first unveiled, Siri fleetingly seemed like it might be revolutionary. Sure, voice-recognition tech had been around for a while on phones, satnavs and those automated systems that banks use to make you feel embarrassed. However, Apple's assistant looked like it would be a chatty leap forward.

Two and a half years on, Siri doesn't in the immortal words of Shania Twain, impress-a me much. It feels slow and limited on my iPhone 4S. It takes forever to respond to questions, sometimes doesn't bother replying at all, and even when it does answer, it's become apparent Siri can't really do much. It was heralded as a sort of “free P.A.,” and frankly in this case, you get what you pay for.

For instance, the idea of being able to book a table with Siri is great – but you need to be dining in the US. Here in the UK, like other great American ideas, such as decent service in restaurants and driving on the right, it just isn't supported.

Speaking of driving, Siri should be at the top of its game when you're on the road, taking the highway of dreams that is the M25, say. Instead, it seems to take great pleasure in frustrating. "Send a text to Vicky. I'll be home soon, just left Essex.”

"I'm sorry, I can't take requests right now".

Or even worse..."Here's your text to Vicky. I'll be home soon, just had sex”

Great, thanks Siri. You're a massive help.

As for third-party app integrations... haha. Don't make me laugh. The idea of being able to push the home button and asking Siri to do something as basic as playing a particular track from Spotify must remain a dream for now.

So when it emerged that Apple might be introducing a significant upgrade to Siri later this year, I'll admit I was excited. Not least because the most significant change mooted is more integration with… third-party apps. It must be happening with Siri, in fact - unless Apple is in one of its most outrageously perverse moods - because Apple has already confirmed its CarPlay system WILL be open to third parties, and CarPlay incorporates Siri control. Apple is pulling down the walls around its app garden.

More than that, Apple needs to ensure any and all new functions work in Europe. It isn't enough to only offer access to those functions in the US only; it sends the wrong message about how Apple perceives “Yoorp” and “Englandland”. Or perhaps it sends a correct message about how it views this side of the Pond, and we should all just either emigrate to the States or forget about exciting new features.

Whatever. Failure to integrate Siri with more than just Apple apps and a couple of handpicked services will mean Siri never rises above gimmick status, and that would be a shame. Siri could be much, much more and Apple must recognise that - certainly the “source” that leaked the info about Siri's rumoured upgrade said that Apple wants to make the service "less gimmicky and more useful". So there you have it. Straight from the source's mouth.

Functionality is only half of it, too. As I mentioned, on my iPhone 4S - surely not an old enough handset to be relegated to “legacy product” geriatric status quite yet - Siri is s-l-o-w. REALLY slow. As in, it would be quicker for me to unlock my iPhone 4S and type it in myself slow.

The proof of this is that more and more, I've found myself using Google Now when searching online by voice. It's significantly more accurate and a lot faster than Siri. Put simply, it's the benchmark that Apple have to exceed.

If Apple really is working on an upgrade to Siri, my best guess is that we'll hear about it at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Apple is highly likely – as in previous years – to take the wraps off the next version of iOS. I'd say that if there isn't an overhaul of Siri, that would be a tacit admission that Apple has given up on it.

However, with voice control fundamental to CarPlay, and the recent spate of Siri-upgrade gossip, there's reasons to be optimistic for the future of your lovably hapless, voice-controlled pal.