There was a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) last week which concluded that voice-to-text apps, like Siri, offer no benefit over standard texting. In fact, they say, reaction time nearly doubled when using these types of apps.
Adam Cheyer, one of the scientists that helped create Siri, however, begs to differ.
Cheyer told Wade Roush over at XConomy that the testing done with Siri (and Vlingo, an Android speech-to-text app) was conducted in a way counter to how Siri is supposed to work in an “eyes-free” setting, like driving a car. In fact, he said, when you’re driving with Siri on your iPhone, connected to a bluetooth headset, the personal assistant goes into a special mode that limits the way you can interact with your iPhone.
“I don’t think that there is any evidence that shows that if Siri and other systems are used properly in eyes-free mode, they are ‘just as risky as texting,’” he said. “It assumes you are ‘eyes-busy’ and responds differently.”
To properly test whether apps like Siri double reaction time or are as unsafe as texting with your hands, said Cheyer, the test should be done when the smartphones are in eyes-free mode, as designed.
“Of course your driving performance is going to be degraded if you’re reading screens and pushing buttons,” he told Roush, “that’s why the engineers behind Siri came up with a separate set of voice prompts that don’t require drivers to look at the screen.”
While it may just sound like sour grapes coming from the scientist who created Siri, the folks behind the other app, Vlingo, shared similar concerns off the record.
Cheyer doesn’t want to criticize the study on its own, he just wants to make sure that the media stops reporting the study as fact, and notices that the eyes-free mode wasn’t tested.
TTI told Roush that the study was designed to look at the way drivers actually use iPhones and other smartphones while driving, which to be honest, is mostly with their hands. A representative from TTI pointed to a lack of information for consumers in the iPhone packed-in instructions, which only suggest a “compatible hands-free device,” and do not mention eyes-free mode at all.
While it may also be that using Siri in the car is as unsafe as texting with your hands, this study doesn’t yet prove that. Let’s hope that TTI takes notice and does another study, this time with eyes-free modes enabled for the drivers being tested.