Why Siri Had to be Released as a Beta

Why Siri Had to be Released as a Beta

As you’re likely aware, Apple’s new Siri technology was launched as a beta rather than a final release – a move which is especially rare for Apple. But why was Siri released as a beta? A recent blog post from Benoit Maison sheds some interesting light:

I worked on speech recognition with IBM Research for nearly six years. We participated in DARPA-sponsored research projects, field trials, and actual product development for various applications: dictation, call centers, automotive, even a classroom assistant for the hearing-impaired. The basic story was always the same: get us more data! (data being in this case transcribed speech recordings). There is even a saying in the speech community: “there is no data like more data“. Some researchers have argued that most of the recent improvements in speech recognition accuracy can be credited to having more and better data, not to better algorithms.

In essence, Maison explains that Apple’s reason for releasing Siri as a beta was due to Siri’s high level of complexity, and because Apple could not have tested and tuned the technology themselves prior to a final release. Instead, they’re counting on user feedback to refine and improve the technology. Maison continues:

To improve Siri, engineers must painstakingly look at the requests that she could not understand (in all languages!) and come up with new rules to cope with them. There are probably many, many gaps like “abortion clinic” in the current implementation, which will be fixed over time. When Apple states “we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks”, they are plainly describing how this process works.

It is important to understand that unlike Apple’s hardware and app designs, Siri’s software could not have been fine-tuned and thoroughly tested in the lab prior to a glorious release. It had to be released in its current form, to get exposure to as much variability as possible all the way from the acoustics to the interpretation of natural language. For each of the funny questions that Apple’s engineers had anticipated, poor Siri has to endure a hundred others.

It’s true that Siri is a bit rough, and certainly far from perfect – but allowing their customers to use (and get hooked on) Siri, and collecting data from millions of users actually using the service is the best and most efficient way to produce a polished end result.

For more information, I highly recommend checking out Maison’s original article, which goes into significantly more detail.


  1. Brendan says:

    The real reason they released it in beta, is because it was rushed into the 4S. Nobody would have bought it otherwise. We waited well over the usual refresh time, and to release a 4S without Siri would have made a lot of people upset. Even with Siri, I doubt I’ll get the 4S when my 3GS runs out of contract. Silly apple, you’ve lost a customer.. And probably a few others as well.

    1. car thief says:

      “Silly apple, you’ve lost a customer.. And probably a few others as well.”

      until they come out with the next iphone, that is even better.   i don’t understand why people are leaving the iphone.  i’ve never used a better phone.

    2. Kevin says:

      So, because they didn’t launch a new model on the schedule you were expecting and because you apparently don’t like Siri or any of the other features or specs of the 4s Apple lost a customer?

      So, (I’m really now fanboy baiting from any side, honest) your next phone will surely be from that one company that has proven to be ahead of the game, forward thinking, and game changing, right? You’re getting a Blackberry! Cause RIM really has it’s shit together. I know, you’re getting an Android!! Cause their product line orderly and not the definition of clutter and fragmented. Nevermind the chumps, your next phone will be from Nokia!!! Unless you’re from the United States, I’m assuming anywhere outside Finland for that matter, in which case you probably forgot they made smart phones.

      Brendan, I, like car thief, believe you’ll be lining up for the next model of iPhone. 

  2. Pedro_9uk says:

    Siri should have come with a basic calibration test for each individual user. That way, Apple can hear a selected list of words from EVERY iPhone user AND Siri doesn’t have to be do cruel to us that don’t speak perfect English.
    Anyone else agree?

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