Another day, another ill-informed Siri-bashing piece, this time by Paul Farhi writing for The Washington Post. It's yet another one of those pieces that links Apple's voice-controlled personal assistant to a coming network armageddon.
Siri’s dirty little secret is that she’s a bandwidth guzzler, the digital equivalent of a 10-miles-per-gallon Hummer H1.
Siri’s data-hogging ways are a problem for more than just those willing to foot the bill. As networks become congested, everyone’s service deteriorates. Private desire becomes a public issue. Calls are dropped or never completed; Internet access slows. First-class airline passengers don’t really compromise service for those in coach. But bandwidth hogs do.
Farhi even goes as far as to draw in a 'straw grandma' into the piece:
And in the meantime? Prepare to sit and wait. That call to Grandma might not get through until the congestion clears.
Yeah, I'm sure she has a tear in her eye too, sitting there in her rocking chain by the silent phone. To listen to Farhi you'd think that this data hogging by Siri will bring on fire and brimstone, forty years of darkness, the dead rising, human sacrifices, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!
Come on, let's get some perspective here!
First, users aren't stealing this bandwidth, the carriers are selling it to them. Users who pay for 300MB or 5GB or whatever are perfectly entitled to use it, and if the carrier offers unlimited, well, it's an all-you-can-eat feast. If you work within the terms and conditions of the carrier then you're free to consume all the data you've paid for. It's not stealing, and no one should lay down a guilt trip on you for using a service that you've paid for. Farhi seems to want you to buy a smartphone and a data plan (two pretty expensive items) and then not make use them because if you do, someone somewhere might not be able to get through to their grandma. If the carriers are overselling capacity and can't cope, then that is a problem, but it's a problem that the carrier has bought upon itself, and the solution is nothing that money can't buy. If you're paying for a data plan then you've done your bit.
Then there's the issue of Siri being a data hog, the digital equivalent of a gas-guzzling Hummer. It's not. If you don't fire up Siri on your iPhone 4S and it won't comsume a single bit of data. Same as your web browser, or email client or whatever. While some people seem to look at Siri as though it's magic powered by albino unicorn tears. It isn't. Siri is nothing more than an app that allows you to make use of the data plan that they've purchased (Siri used to be an actual app until Apple bought the company and packaged the technology into the iPhone 4S). Apps aren't evil, they're just tools.
The argument that people who try to make the best use of their mobile data plans are ruining things for everyone else reminds me of similar arguments made relating to network congestion when consumers started connecting networks and WiFi hotspots to their home routers. Internet providers who had previously been used to selling people more bandwidth than they could realistically use suddenly had to adapt to a different business model. Back in the day before high-speed connections, VoIP, YouTube, streaming and so on it was easy to offer 'unlimited' data because people really couldn't suck that hard on the data teat, and 'unlimited' sounded good from a marketing standpoint. Now that we're all sucking haarder on that same teat, the idea of 'unlimited' doesn't really exist any more.
Finally, why is Farhi focusing on Siri when there are plenty of other apps and services that suck far more data, such as VoIP and media streaming? I'll resist the tempation to suggest that Farhi chose to focus on Siri because it's well known, and that would make the page views flow and instead think that perhaps he was really was sucked in by that report by Arieso that I tore apart earlier this month. The reasons why iPhone 4S users consume more data than other iPhone users isn't as clear cut as picking on a single feature. The iPhone 4S is designed to make increasing use of the data connection that it's tied to, because not to do so would be shortchanging the consumer who's paying for that shiny new Phone and expensive data.