Apple commercial shows us why Siri needs The Rock more than The Rock needs Siri
Image: dwayne "the Rock johnson/facebook
I gotta give it up to Apple for pairing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with Siri — yes, the iPhone’s digital assistant — for its latest TV commercial.
"The Rock x Siri: Dominate the Day" is funny and entertaining and just so ridiculous that it works. Bravo, Apple. Really, Bravo.
But as great as the make-believe movie is, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the end of the commercial when The Rock walks off his Hollywood set, face beaming, and says "Hey Siri, you’re the best. I love you, too."
The problem is, I don’t love Siri. No one does. In fact, most people I know that have an iPhone aren’t charmed at all by its sweet, ever more human-like voice and basic AF capabilities.
The reason is because Siri hasn’t really gained any significant attributes since it launched in 2011 on the iPhone 4S. The digital assistant was supposed to usher in a new era of voice-based computing on mobile — but it never really delivered.
I remember how the very first Siri commercial showed how it would help you reply to text messages through dictation, play your music, give you traffic alerts, tell you the weather, convert units of measurement, and set timers.
As simple as these features were, Siri felt like it was going to be this huge paradigm shift in how we used our phones. The potential was there for the taking — except it never fulfilled its promise. Even recruiting movie stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel for commercials couldn’t make Siri more interesting or useful.
Siri is great when it works, but when it doesn’t (which is most of the time), most people are less likely to try it again in the future. This is not a behavior that’s exclusive to Siri, but one that affects all digital assistants, and all products.
This fall, Siri turns six, and while Apple has expanded the digital assistant’s features over the years — it now supports 21 languages, can control smart home devices, is built into macOS and Apple TV, etc. — Siri is still practically the same as it was when it launched in 2011.
Here’s a list of stuff The Rock asks Siri to do while he’s flying to Rome, painting church ceilings, and kicking alien robot ass:
"Hey Siri, read my schedule."
"Hey Siri, show me my life goals list."
"Hey Siri, text Chef Ludo."
"Hey Siri, how many ounces in a centiliter?"
"Hey Siri, what’s the temperature in Rome today?"
"Hey Siri, read me my last email."
"Hey Siri, play my practice playlist."
Hmm, the commands don’t look much different from the ones six years ago. Sure, Siri can now do things like call up a ride-share car, start a FaceTime call, or show you photos, but they’re still the same types of tasks: Siri, do ____.
And therein lies Siri’s problem: To most people, it hasn’t grown at all. Even if it can do more things, it doesn’t seem like it can, or people aren’t willing to give it another chance because they got burned the first time.
Compare that with Alexa, which now supports over 15,000 skills (or commands) and seemingly connects to everything, and Siri looks inept. Amazon’s constantly telling people about all of the new things Alexa knows and does, but Apple does it, what, maybe once a year at WWDC?
Google Assistant also has a much better image than Siri, and it’s well-earned. Google Assistant is the smartest digital companion of them all. It’s powered by the omnipotent Google Brain, which makes it by far the smartest of the voice assistants, and it’s getting even better at being aware of context.
I expected Siri to completely take over my phone after it was launched. I wanted it to be able to do something like caption and post the last photo I took to Instagram. I wanted it to integrate deeply with Apple’s apps and third-party apps.
These things could still happen now that Apple’s opened up Siri to developers, but I’m not very hopeful. Almost a year after announcing SiriKit, the tool that lets developers build for it, I’ve yet to see any must-have Siri integrations in popular apps.
What I want Siri to be, actually, is Samsung’s Bixby. Samsung’s digital assistant is more than just an artificial intelligence that lives in your phone. Samsung designed Bixby to replicate all of the functions of your phone and apps. In other words, whatever you can do with touch, Bixby can do with through a voice command.
At least, that’s the dream for Bixby. As we all learned in the months following Bixby’s launch on the Galaxy S8 and S8+, getting the digital assistant to actually competently replicate your phone’s functions is extremely challenging.
Bixby’s spectacular failure at launch is good evidence that despite Siri’s seemingly stunted evolution, taking things slow may not be the worst strategy. It’s probably better to have a digital assistant that works in more languages and does a few basic things than one that only works in two languages that’s trying to do it all.
Make no mistake, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Siri’s mini film is a huge publicity stunt — a reminder that, hey, Siri is still a thing and it does more now.
Maybe this commercial is Apple building up hype for some truly mind-blowing Siri features in the run up to the launch of this year’s iPhone. Or perhaps it’s to re-introduce Siri to potential HomePod buyers. We won’t know until September’s iPhone even rolls around.
At the very least, this video resets expectations of what Siri is and what it’s not.