Siri Shorcuts Stupidity

About a week ago, Gabe over at MacDrifter wrote about The Toxic Fragility of Siri Shortcuts wherein he discussed how his custom Siri shortcut went from working to not working out of nowhere, seemingly on a mere whim of Siri.

One day he could use his trigger phrase to have his custom Siri Shortcut run, and the next day, it decided to just give him a useless reply instead.

(You should go read his article because it’s important to understand how frustrating that was.)

I read his article and shook my head. “This is so dumb,” I thought, “Why would Apple do that?”

But I have to admit, part of me also thought, “Well, Apple does have this annoying habit of wanting to make Siri ‘cute’ so I guess it’s no big surprise that they decided to give a stupid response to ‘I’m awake’ instead of running Gabe’s shortcut.”

That doesn’t make it right, of course, just not-too-surprising.

Today, the same thing happened to me with an even worse example.

(And I don’t think that I feel it’s worse just because it happened to me. Although you might disagree. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.)

“Hey Siri, start my car”

One of the first shortcuts that I made was a very simple one. It launches Due.app to set a 5 minute timer, and then launches the myChevrolet app. Using that Shorcut, I can tap a few buttons to remotely start my car, and then have an alarm remind me in a few minutes that my car is probably warmed up by now.

(Yes, I’ll stipulate that I’m a very special boy with a very fancy car. Well, actually it’s a 2014 Chevy Impala. But, in any case, don’t get distracted by the “Oh you can start your car with your phone?” because it’s really not about that. Nor is it about “Well you shouldn’t let your car run anyway because it’s bad for the environment.”)

Now, mind you, the shortcut doesn’t actually start my car, because the myChevrolet app is nowhere near smart enough to support Siri Shortcuts.

I just chose the phrase “start my car” because it’s fun to say to my iPhone, and it’s memorable.

In actuality, after the app launches, I still have to tap on a button, then tap on another button, then tap a third button to dismiss a legal disclaimer (that they insist on showing me EVERY…SINGLE…TIME…), and then enter a 4-digit PIN or use Face ID to authenticate myself.

Like I said, the point isn’t even really about what the Shortcut does. The point is that it’s a simple 4-step Siri Shortcut that basically does two things: open this app, then open that app. And I can trigger it with a voice command.

Which has worked perfectly every single day.

Until today.

Today, when I invoked the same Siri Shortcut using the same phrase I’ve been using for weeks, it came back with this:

Just to verify that I wasn’t misremembering my voice command, I opened the Shortcuts.app and checked my custom phrase:

So… yeah. Siri just decided that it can’t do this.

Let me list seven ways this is stupid and wrong

  1. If I setup a specific voice phrase for a Siri Shortcut, it ought to do what I ask it to do 100% of the time.

  2. Even if I choose a phrase that Siri thinks is “reserved” for something else, my choice ought to win in just the same way that users on macOS can enter their own keyboard shortcuts and override the system defaults. For example, sometime around Mac OS X Lion, Apple decided that ⌘⇧S should be used for “Duplicate” instead of “Save As…”. But if you make your own system-wide shortcut for “Save As…” and assign it to ⌘⇧S, then the operating system will respect that decision.

  3. There is no reason Siri can’t do what I’m asking it to do. It isn’t misunderstanding me. It’s just refusing to do what I asked.

  4. Unlike Gabe’s example, where Siri just decided to take over his trigger phrase with a stupid “friendly” reply (which is still dumb and wrong), Siri is just ignoring my commands.

  5. Siri also decided to tell me it can’t stop my car. Who said anything about stopping my car?!? No one! So Siri is telling me it can’t do something I never asked it to do.

  6. Siri should not be making any decisions about whether or not to do what I want it to do, any more than macOS should say “You know, I don’t like that keyboard shortcut, so I’m just going to ignore it.”

  7. I realize some of these points are similar to each other, I’m just so annoyed by the sheer stupidity of this, I want to make myself abundantly clear.

Siri already has a bad reputation. Why are you making it worse?

Making changes like the ones that Gabe and I have run into will never make a customer happier. And it seems like these are changes that someone had to specifically decide to change, because one day they worked, and then suddenly they didn’t.

In fact, as Gabe pointed out in his article, this experience undercuts trust in the system, and actually makes customers less likely to use it in the future. Given that Siri already has a terrible reputation, why would you do anything to make using Siri worse?!?!

Unlike a keyboard shortcut, Siri trigger phrases aren’t easy to try again. If I mistype a keyboard shortcut and nothing happens, chances are good my fingers are close to the right keys and I just have to make a slight modification. With a spoken command, I have to wait for Siri to timeout, then invoke it again, and then try to remember what phrase I need to use instead of the phrase that I wanted to use. I can already tell you this is not easy to do, and I only had a few weeks using the old voice command.

Mac users recently voiced their frustration over Google Chrome deciding that it was going to hijack ⌘Q so that it would no longer immediately quit. Now imagine that Apple had done that for Safari, and refused to allow you to disable it. That’s pretty close to what they’re doing with Siri.

This decision is bad, dumb, and wrong, Apple. You should fix it.

Copyright 2018 Timothy J. Luoma