Siri and the beta pool

Mat Honan is having a fit this morning over his experience with Siri. He starts by making a good point: Siri is in beta, suggesting that it’s unfinished, yet Apple is using it to sell iPhones:

“Check out any of Apple’s ads for the iPhone 4S. They’re promoting Siri so hard you’d be forgiven for thinking Siri is the new CEO of Apple. And it’s not just that first wave of TV ads, a recent email Apple sent out urges you to ‘Give the phone that everyone’s talking about. And talking to.’ It promises ‘Siri: The intelligent assistant you can ask to make calls, send texts, set reminders, and more.’

What those Apple ads fail to report—at all—is that Siri is very much a half-baked product. Siri is officially in beta. Go to Siri’s homepage on, and you’ll even notice a little beta tag by the name.”

In the week that I’ve been using Siri the experience has been hit-or-miss. Often it gets me. Sometimes it doesn’t. Still, I wouldn’t call it “…very much a half-baked product.” And what about that beta tag? Mat goes on to describe how Apple handles other public betas:

“When Apple does a public beta, it usually keeps it out of the hands of the, you know, public. It typically makes you go get betas. It doesn’t force them on you, much less advertise them. Not that it is an effective disclaimer for the vast buying public. For most people who see Apple’s ads, and buy iPhones, the word beta means nothing at all. It might be a fish, or a college bro.”

I don’t know about that bro bit, but I do know that the purpose of a public beta is to gather feedback meant to improve and enhance the final product. The size of that pool is what’s important here. You need a sufficiently representative sample of users to get the most benefit. The betas that Apple “…makes you go get,” like iOS and OS X developer builds, gather sufficient feedback from the pool of developers.

However, I suspect that the only way Siri will successfully emerge from beta as a fully armed and operational digital assistant [1. In a timely fashion, at least.] is with the help of a very large pool of active testers. It’s a conundrum for sure: Apple is pushing people to buy an unfinished product that won’t mature unless they do.