iOS 6 hands-on: Siri has learned a lot in the last year

Up until iOS 6, Apple’s(s AAPL) voice-controlled personal assisitant Siri has been of marginal use to me. Most times, I’d use it to reply to a text while I’m driving, but more often than not she would mangle what I’m trying to say until eventually, I’d swear at her and give up. With iOS 6, however, I’m using Siri a lot more frequently.

Thanks to a bunch of additions and improvements, here are some of the ways she’s helping out now, and not just in the car.

Sports fan

Siri understands sports now, and for someone like me who is a sports stat junky it’s been a bonanza of fun. Ask Siri, “What’s Dustin Pedroia’s batting average?” and she responds that he has a batting average of .293. Where Siri also comes in handy is when I want to know the score of a game. While watching the Patriots choke this Sunday, I was curious about the score of the Red Sox game. I asked Siri, “What’s the score of the Sox game?” and Siri responded that the [censored] Red Sox are losing 3-0 (extra emphasis mine; it’s been a trying year for the Sox).

She seems to have a problem with statistics for football yards, however. When I asked her, “How many yards did Stevan Ridley run for today,” and she will tell me he had 75 rushing yards. However, she doesn’t have a clue for “how many Tom Brady did threw for.” I have to ask “how many passing yards did Tom Brady have?” and she will tell me he passed for 316 yards. When I ask her  “Why Gostowski missed that crucial last field goal?” and, like most people in New England, she didn’t have a clue either.

Her knowledge of sports also seems limited to this current season. If I query “Who has the most hits in the history of baseball,” she tells me that “Derek Jeter has 198 hits.” The answer I was looking for was Pete Rose, with 4,256.

Launching apps

One new feature I’m not sure how often I’ll use is the ability to launch apps. Speaking “Launch Flashlight” will run my Flashlight app. I tend to keep my app collection to a minimum, keeping only ones I really use. If an app’s not on my first two screens, most of the time I’ll just use Spotlight to search for it. The few times it would come in handy while driving are covered by other Siri features (texting and directions).


The turn-by-turn navigation in Maps is pretty good, and while it’s nice that Siri can help you get directions, I’ve found her understanding of them is very limited. I can ask her how to get to my home, work, or my friend Dave’s house (he’s in my contacts) and she’ll respond with the correct answer. However, if I ask her how to get to my camera club (also in my contacts), she tries to search for businesses of that name. Even telling her the name of the church it’s held at confuses her. Telling her the exact address works, naturally. So, in that case I just need to bookmark the address in Maps and use the app. Siri did do a better job telling me how to get to the local zoo. Asking her about the closest gas stations brings up a list of ones close to me and I can click on one of them for directions.

What’s also nice is that I can ask for traffic information in a general area. Asking “What’s the traffic in Boston?” will bring up a map of the major highways and red dashes showing where the trouble spots are. The software is not smart enough, however, to tell you how much the delay will add to your commute.

Movies and restaurants

The other Siri feature I can see using while I’m driving is finding movies playing nearby and and restaurants close to me.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility to be out and about with my SO and we decide to catch a movie. Siri will tell me what movies are playing nearby, and then let me bring up the Rotten Tomatoes reviews for it. Dinner and a movie go hand in hand, so I can also ask Siri what restaurants are close, and I can see the Yelp(s YELP) reviews for them as well.

Posting to Facebook

I’m going to file “Posting to Facebook(s FB) with Siri” under an Accessibility feature. I certainly can’t think of a reason I’d want to use Siri to post to my Facebook account, but I can think of reasons a person with poor (or no) eyesight would want to use Siri to post to his or her Facebook page. Or, it could just be that I’m old enough to still feel a little odd dictating a status post to my computer.

Final thoughts

I think with iOS 5, Apple had specific things they wanted Siri to accomplish, but weren’t really sure how people would use it. Now that the company has almost a year’s worth of data, it should have a better understanding of requests people make. I’m also sure one of the chief requests by users was “Why are you so useless, Siri?”

With iOS 6, I’ve been using Siri a lot more. What I hope is, during the time between now and iOS 7 sometime next year, Siri’s databases will understand a lot more requests — like who the all-time leaders in sports categories are. This will let Siri help solve a lot more sports bets.