Before Apple unveiled the new iPad on Wednesday, no one was quite positive what Apple would announce. It seemed pretty sure that the iPad 3 (as it was being called then) would have a Retina Display, but would it have an A5X processor or an A6 processor? 3G or LTE? 512MB of RAM or 1GB of RAM. Would it be thinner or thicker? And what would it be called: the iPad 3 or iPad HD? (Everyone got the name wrong: it’s just called the “new iPad” now.)
One thing few people had any doubt about was that Siri would be making her way to iPad this year… which is why Siri’s absence on the new iPad counted as probably the biggest disappointment of the entire event.
Why would Apple leave Siri out of the new iPad?
It all comes down to two things.
The first is that Siri requires an Internet connection to work, and with the iPad, Apple can’t count on an Internet connection being present at all times. With the iPhone 4S, you always have internet: either you’re connected to a local WiFi network, or you’re slurping in 3G data from your carrier. Siri, then, can always “phone home” to Apple’s servers; unless those servers are totally down, Siri rarely fails.
The problem with the iPad, though, is that Apple sells two varieties of tablet: WiFi-only models and 4G models. Even with the 4G models, though, Apple can’t count on an internet connection at all times because the device isn’t linked to a wireless carrier contract: it’s pay-as-you-go. In fact, many people only pay for wireless internet on their iPads when they truly need it, like when they’re away from home and traveling.
What this all adds up to is that on any given iPad, Apple can’t guarantee that a user making a long press of the home button will be able to get an answer from Siri without her failing catastrophically. And that’s a problem because Siri is baked into the very core of the OS.
Apple could, of course, explain to everyone that Siri will only work with an Internet connection, but Cupertino tends to not like these types of solutions: they either want something to work for everyone, or no one. In fact, if you don’t have Internet connectivity on your iPhone 4S for any reason, Siri already explains that it can’t work without 3G or WiFi access… but it’s an extremely rare circumstance. With the iPad, Siri would be coughing up this message a huge chunk of the time. Unacceptable.
But let’s say for a second that Apple did think that was acceptable. There’s another reason why Apple didn’t put Siri in the new iPad.
That’s going to be a contentious statement, but it’s true. Siri — a beta by Apple’s own admission — is quantifiably dumber, less intelligent and less useful than it was just five months ago when it first launched.
Don’t believe me? Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak himself has noticed how bad Siri has gotten:
I used to ask Siri, ‘What are the five biggest lakes in California?’ and it would come back with the answer. Now it just misses. It gives me real estate listings. I used to ask, ‘What are the prime numbers greater than 87?’ and it would answer. Now instead of getting prime numbers, I get listings for prime rib, or prime real estate. I’ll be saying, over and over again in my car, ‘Call the Lark Creek Steak House,’ and I can’t get it done.
It’s true. There were all sorts of questions I could ask Siri when it first launched. For example, I used to be able to ask Siri what the average height of an American male was, and get a correct answer. Now, it tells me the highest mountain, and the male population. I’m no expert, but if Siri could intelligently and correctly answer a question five months ago, and now it can’t, Siri’s gone from beta status to alpha.
The fact that Siri is so much dumber now than it was at launch points to Apple having problems ramping it up to the extreme demand of the iPhone 4S. I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that so many people are hammering on Siri right now that Apple has to devote far less time and processing power to calculating Siri’s answers, returning measurably less intelligent answers than just a few months ago. It’s like notching down the playing power of a chess computer: Siri is spending less time each turn “thinking” about its next “move.”
If Siri’s this dumb just trying to keep up with the iPhone 4S demand, imagine what would happen to the service with the crushing weight of 60 million new iPads heaped down on top of it to boot. It would be crushed like a sparrow suddenly teleported to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Siri may very well come to the iPad someday, but it’s not ready for it today. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your poor man’s Siri, Siri Dictation*. It’s all your iPad is going to have for a long time.
* – Of course, Siri Dictation also requires an Internet connection to work. The difference is, if the Internet isn’t available, you can just manually type in your text, no problem. None of Siri’s functionality works at all without an Internet connection: there’s no back-up.