Is Apple's Siri a Scam?

Mocked up press shots and doctored TV ads have been an advertising mainstay since the dawn of time. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is no different, and it's now getting sued because of it.

A New Yorker named Frank Fazio picked up an iPhone 4S late last year and isn't so impressed with the real-life performance of Apple's virtual assistant, Siri. Fazio has now filed suit and is starting a class action lawsuit against Cupertino on the basis of false advertising. The suit was filed in California this week, and here are some notable tidbits from the complaint:

5. For example, in many of Apple's television advertisements, individuals are shown using Siri to make appointments, find restaurants, and even learn the guitar chords to classic rock songs or how to tie a tie. In the commercials, all of these tasks are done with ease with the assistance of the iPhone 4S's Siri feature, a represented functionality contrary to the actual operating results and performance of Siri.

...

8. Defendant's advertisements regarding the Siri feature are fundamentally and designedly false and misleading. Notwithstanding Apple's extensive multi-million dollar advertising campaign showcasing the Siri feature, and the fact that the iPhone 4S is more expensive than the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S's Siri feature does not perform as advertised, rendering the iPhone 4S merely a more expensive iPhone 4.

...

34. To the detriment of consumers, however, the bulk of Apple's massive marketing and advertising campaign, including its dominant and expansive television advertisements, fail to mention the word "beta" and the fact that Siri is, at best, a work-in-progress. Indeed, it is only through following a series of links within Apple's website, including a footnote at the bottom of a page, that one would learn that Siri is only a work-in-progress.

Source: scribd.com via The Wall Street Journal.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that Apple puts in this disclosure at the end of its commercials for a reason: "Sequences shortened. Coverage varies." I'll leave it to the courts to decide whether that passes legal muster to absolve Cupertino of misleading ads, but in fairness, that fine print looks like a billboard compared with some of the disclaimers you see on TV ads for prescription drugs, whose side effects alone might require another dozen additional cures.

While Siri is a selling point, it's not the only differentiator from the iPhone 4. For example, consider the upgraded 8-megapixel camera from Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , which displaced the 5-megapixel shooter from OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI  ) in the iPhone 4. Incidentally, we'll soon find out which of these suppliers scored the new iPad's 5-megapixel sensor design win. Baird thinks the latter did.

Siri is pretty clearly beta software, which is by definition a "work in progress," so the complaint's assertion that a lot of digging is required is, "at best," an exaggeration. The beta moniker is right up top on Apple's Siri page.

Source: Apple.com.

That being said, Siri has admittedly gotten worse over time, and even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak prefers his Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android device's voice capabilities to Siri. That's even before considering that Google may be taking its voice competition to the next level with a full-fledged "Google Assistant" later this year.

Marketing is marketing. Apple isn't the first to exaggerate a bit, and it won't be the last.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of ARM Holdings, Apple, and OmniVision Technologies, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2012, at 11:34 PM, beetlebug62 wrote:

    Of all the smartphone and tablet manufacturers, Apple is the only one that doesn't use SIMULATED screenshots. Look at the latest Samsung Galaxy Note tablet-phone thingy. They show someone painting a flower with a smart stylus, very cool. Problem is, it's not real, it's "simulated"! Only Apple uses real devices, showing real screen images, but with "sequences shortened", as noted in the commentary above.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2012, at 12:28 AM, appolyon5583 wrote:

    Simulated like when Apple posted "screenshots" of their web browser in action with flash working? Yep...

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2012, at 9:45 AM, Steinzo wrote:

    Apparently, Siri is not quite ready for prime-time (pretty much a given for any technology in "beta" status).

    In hindsight, Apple probably shouldn't have rolled out Siri with its iPhone 4S; instead, it might have been a better idea to offer it as an "opt-in" for people registered with Apple as developers. This would have given Apple the opportunity to field test Siri with a group of users who clearly understand the nature of beta technology.

    I still believe that Siri has the potential to be a game-changer once all the kinks are worked out.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2012, at 12:47 PM, lucasmonger wrote:

    I can't believe someone is suing for what Apple said up front is a Beta in the works. Siri is still awesome. I would use it more if it weren't' such a data hog and the carriers didn't charge so much for data.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2012, at 12:51 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    I wouldn't say Apple was "up front" about it being Beta, but they didn't necessarily hide it, either.

    It is, however, a big departure for Apple. Google releases in Beta all the time and people expect it. Apple releases polished, finished products that decimate the competition, and it is willing to wait to get it right. Siri is... not any of that. I can't help but think that Apple is feeling the heat from Google.

  • Report this Comment On March 14, 2012, at 6:09 PM, investingcents wrote:

    Siri is not perfect, and probably doesn't work for complex questions/queries. The following are a few examples of what does work, repeatedly and from what I've experienced - near flawlessly (yes, I actually tried each of these just before I typed this up).

    "Remind me to pick up the kids at 5:30PM"

    >> creates an reminder, titled "pick up the kids" and prompts the user to confirm.

    "Am I free at 12 noon tomorrow?"

    >> looks up appointments and informs the user of any existing appointments at noon, and lists them on screen.

    "Will it rain on Friday?"

    >> replies that it will (or won't) rain, and displays the 7 forecast on screen.

    "Look up the address for the nearest Fry's store"

    >> Looks up and lists the 3 nearest locations Fry's Electronics.

    If you have your 4S handy (you do have an iPhone4S right? ;-) .. go ahead and try these out.

    In my view, these all represent tasks that I find very useful, and I use them often and effectively on my 4S. I don't on the other hand find the need the to look up the "5 largest lakes in California" or facts like that on a regular basis .. but then again, maybe my expectations are unreasonably simplistic.

    There are a few things/features on the 4S that I don't like, but I find these to be relatively minor annoyances.

    I can however, tell you quite honestly that I find my 4S to have been the most productive tech device I have ever purchased, and the Siri functionality from my view works as advertised. If that's what I get for 'beta' quality, I'll take it. Gladly.

  • Report this Comment On March 15, 2012, at 7:59 PM, gillyak43 wrote:

    Siri is a joke - cant even call a contact many times.

    Shame on Apple - their arrogance keeps growing

    Hope they lose this suit.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2012, at 3:41 PM, Goddessofmusic wrote:

    I pre-ordered the iPhone 4S, KNOWING that Siri was beta. I am about 90% satisfied with her performance. I understand that she is a "newborn", and she's not perfect yet, but I believe that there is no basis for a lawsuit. It's a frivolous quibble. I have never been less than wonderfully happy with any of my Apple purchases, from my first Quaddra, through my current laptop, iPhone and iPad, and I will upgrade them as soon as finances permit. I switched from PC early on and have never looked back. IMO, the lawsuit is sour grapes.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2012, at 5:42 PM, optimist911 wrote:

    It's pretty crappy, and I'm not sure how something so slipshod could have been released by a company supposedly so devoted to quality. Except for cherry-picked searches, I usually get rotten apples for results, sometimes failing to see how these correlate with I requested. It's much quicker just to type in queries in search.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2012, at 5:55 PM, portefeuille wrote:

    I don't on the other hand find the need the to look up the "5 largest lakes in California"

    -----------

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=5+largest+lakes+in+Cali...

    -----------

    Siri accounts for about a quarter of the queries fielded by Wolfram Alpha, whose staff has grown to 200.

    -----------

    from here -> http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/07/technology/wolfram-a-searc...

    also post on WolframAlpha -> http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ellipsis/225763.

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2012, at 6:02 PM, portefeuille wrote:

    a post on Stephen Wolfram. and on sleep ...

    http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/night/717785.

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