“Mac Siri” can’t control HomeKit. Ok. But here’s another one: an Apple TV 4 or later (or iPad but that’s besides the point here) is required if you intend to do things such as automation with HomeKit devices. It says so right there in the iOS Home app. The Apple TV is an essential part of the HomeKit ecosystem. Now, Siri is also on Apple TV. So here’s a new scenario: I’m sitting on the couch and I want to dim the lights. I pick up the Siri remote and ask Siri to...you know...dim the lights. Nope. “Apple TV Siri” CANNOT CONTROL HOMEKIT.
When Apple talks about Siri as a singular entity..they’re not being honest. Siri is utterly fragmented. It’s actually up to us to decipher what Siri can or cannot do, depending on the device we’re using. And this segregation of function per device extends to other areas in ways I simply don’t understand: the HomePod is soon to be shipping, but on this device Siri only understands English (which is probably the reason why it’s not available in Canada). What’s going on here? Is this a new “HomePod Siri” that can’t understand what “iPhone Siri” already knows? Doesn’t “iPhone Siri” speak a ton of languages by now?
What’s the point of development if you can’t build on what already exists or—in AI terms—use knowledge that’s already been acquired?
AND THEN THERE’S ALEXA
I bought an Echo Dot last December. Probably no big deal for many of you but in Canada, this was our very first “official” taste of Alexa. Honestly it was an impulse buy: we’re already Amazon Prime members and the Dot was something like $45 CAD during the holidays. I was curious so I figured what the hell. If it sucks, it sucks. I won’t be losing much sleep over it.
Holy shit, what an awakening.
With Siri, no matter which device I use (Apple Watch, various iPads, iPhones, even iPods) I’m never entirely certain of the results. Sometimes it will answer immediately and do exactly what I asked. Other times I just stand there like a moron, repeating myself to no avail. Or the reply will be wrong. When Siri works it’s fine...but consistency is incredibly important in digital assistants. Because when they don’t work you feel like a fool—and you just stop using them. And then it doesn’t matter if they eventually improve because you’ve stopped trying.
When I received the Echo Dot it was already the evening, so I didn’t much go beyond the initial set up. But I was somewhat impressed when I paired it to my iPhone, only to hear Alexa explain how I could just ask her to connect next time (*1). Then I moved downstairs to read (Cynthia was out playing volleyball), turned on the aforementioned Apple TV and asked Siri to play some classical music. I got David Bowie. Ok...so Bowie...classic rock maybe? Nope. This was Blackstar. I asked again. Still no go. And btw: I could see the query typed out correctly on-screen so it’s not like Siri understood something different. On a whim I went back upstairs and asked Alexa the exact same thing: “Here’s a station called Classical Music, from Amazon Music”, she replied. Huh (*2).
Alexa works every. single. time. It’s like a bloody revelation. If I ask for Cool Jazz I get a Cool Jazz station—the specific genre. Siri gives me recent jazz songs or top jazz songs, as if “cool” is a synonym for “popular”. Alexa understands the kids, regardless of their accents and sometimes imperfect English grammar. She understands when I’m halfway down the stairs and I ask her to turn on the lights in the studio—no pause, no “hold on”, just an “ok” and the lights are on, instantly. One night during dinner Anaïs, our oldest daughter, asked Alexa to “say meow”...don’t ask me why, kids are kids. But just as I was about to tell her she was being silly...cats started meowing. Everyone’s eyes went very, very wide, our actual cat went completely berserk and we had a pretty good laugh. Useless? Oh totally. But behind the scenes Alexa heard and understood the query, found a “skill” that would do the job, enabled and launched it—all of this before I had time to utter a single word. Call me crazy but for me this is technology at its most magical: frictionless. It just works? Damn right it does. As for Siri...I tried the same thing just for kicks: