Five lessons from Apple's Siri

Siri has become the most talked-about feature on the iPhone 4S. She's informative and fun, and she may just surprise you. CNET takes a closer look.

If you're annoying Siri, she'll tell you. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

In each of the last few iPhones, there's been one new feature that's stolen the show. Video recording rocked on the iPhone 3GS, FaceTime entertained on the iPhone 4, and Siri undoubtedly is the star attraction on the iPhone 4S.

Though Apple's phones have long had a Voice Control feature, Siri goes a few steps further. She'll not only follow your basic commands, she'll give you directions and answer all kinds of wacky and serious questions. She's surprisingly intelligent and rather fun.

I've been interacting with Siri for a couple of days, and I've learned quite a few things about her. She can be serious, self-deprecating, impatient, polite, and even sassy. It takes a while to get used to her quirks, but you just found a new friend. It's just that she may not have every answer or the answer you want.

Speak slowly and enunciate
Siri is a computer, after all, so she won't understand you if you speak too quickly or trip over your words. I tend to do both, so there were a few times when she couldn't get what I was saying. The most amusing was when I asked, "Who is the better Darrin on 'Bewitched'?" She thought I asked, "Who is the fatter Karen that is witched?"

Be specific
Since you can ask questions in multiple ways, you need to think carefully about how you talk to Siri. As you'll see in the attached slideshow , she had the correct answer when I asked, "What is the national language of Switzerland?" But when I asked, "What language do they speak in Switzerland?", I got a bizarre answer about language schools near Switzerland, Fla. It wasn't what I was looking for, but at least I learned such a place exists.

Words matter
When Siri is confused, she hangs on to familiar words in an effort to find an answer. "Don't you want me baby?" turned up local baby stores and "Why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?" produced a list of parking lots. But even serious questions didn't always work out. Asking for the best camera just gave me a list of camera stores, for example. Similarly, "Where can I buy a BlackBerry phone?" just gave me a list of businesses with "BlackBerry" in the name. Then again, maybe Siri was making a point.

Take recommendations lightly
If you ask for a local burrito joint, Siri gladly will offer suggestions. She'll also rank the taquerias if you ask for the best burrito. I don't know quite where she gets her rankings, so I didn't take them as gospel. What's more, she told me that the Tempura House restaurant nearby sells Mexican food.

She has a personality
Though Siri says she doesn't have a gender, we call her "she." That there is a programmed answer for "What is Siri's gender?" shows that Apple engineers were having fun. She'll get cagey if you ask if she likes you, she'll clam up in response to controversial questions, and she won't even entertain the idea that there's a better cell phone than the 4S. And when you really waste her time, she'll tell you so in several ways.

 

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