Apple's Siri has beta moment, highlights expectations game

Apple has a beta tag on its Siri technology, but it's unclear whether the average bear views the service as a test run.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple's iPhone 4S had a Siri moment on the Howard Stern show when the service stumbled on questions, was roundly mocked and callers chimed in to say the servers the voice technology used appeared to be down.

Stern's biggest beef: Siri didn't quite work the way it does on Apple's commercials. In a nutshell, Stern said the commercials are horse poop (I'm paraphrasing).

As I explained the quips to colleagues there was a familiar refrain coming back at me. Siri works for some stuff, flails at other items and is a beta so you expect some hiccups.

Then it hit me. Apple doesn't really do betas and few real folks view Siri as a test run. Commercials don't usually highlight with betas.

So what is Siri? A beta that should be treated as such? Or a real service that's ready for prime time today? What's the perception gap here?

If you follow this theme, the Siri expectations are higher than they would be for betas from other companies.

The obvious comparison here is Google. Google launches a lot of betas and you come to expect some imperfections. Your tolerance for beta problems has an inverse relationship with the price you pay. Android 3.0 Honeycomb issues on a $499 tablet and patience is thin. A quirk on a free Google product barely raises an eyebrow.

Microsoft also has its beta products and you also expect a few hiccups. I view Vista as one big beta program for Windows 7. Microsoft probably disagrees.

When confronted with an Apple beta, I'm not quite sure how to react -- and I bet a lot of consumers are slightly befuddled too. Apple rarely does public betas---at least ones that are touted as the primary feature for a hot-selling iPhone. Is Siri's beta tag a crutch when few people view it as a test run?

Stern highlighted the expectations game for Apple. Siri wasn't viewed as a beta by any stretch. I'm not sure other consumers view Siri as a beta either. Fortunately for Apple other implementations of voice technologies have been betas---officially or not---for years.

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