Siri’s Atrocious Fielding Percentage

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Awhile back, I discovered I could hook up my home alarm system to Shortcuts on my iPhone. If you’re not familiar with Shortcuts, they’re a convenient way to automate things. In Apple’s own words:

Shortcuts let you quickly do everyday tasks, and with the apps you use the most — all with just a tap or by asking Siri.

In my particular case, I created Shortcuts to enable and disable the home alarm. For months now, I’ve activated the system in the evening by issuing the command “Set Home Alarm”, and deactivated it in the morning with the command “Disarm”. It was simple, handy, and it felt like the future. Of course, given the fact that I was using both Siri and my Apple Watch, things were bound to fall apart.

Yesterday morning, my “Disarm” command suddenly started returning this:

Siri on the Apple Watch showing information about a 28 year old Smashing Pumpkins song

I suppose it’s possible I might want information about a Smashing Pumpkins song from 28 years ago that I haven’t heard this millennium. Still, it seems more likely that I want to do the same thing I’ve done every single morning for months.

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get Siri to run the desired Shortcut. I eventually disarmed the system from the PIN pad like an animal, and went about my day. However, in the evening, I hit a similar frustration:

Siri on the Apple Watch getting confused about what alarm I want

This mix-up is a bit more understandable, and I do occasionally set alarm clock-style alarms on the Apple Watch. Still, when I do, I say “Set an alarm for 7 AM”. I include a time, because that’s the most important part of an alarm. Also, just to reiterate, I’ve been using this Shortcut with the exact phrase “Set home alarm” since July.

I tried being more explicit, mentioning the word “Shortcut”, but still Siri failed:

Siri on the Apple Watch failing despite an even more explicit command

After giving it multiple tries (and documenting it all with screenshots), I once again gave up and handled things manually. On the plus side, all of this stupidity did lead me to listen to “Disarm”, which then led me to re-watch the video for “1979”. That really took me back.

This morning, I tested things again, and it all worked perfectly.

Siri on the Apple Watch working exactly as it should

I’m not surprised, because Siri does have a relatively high accuracy rate overall. Siri probably handles 90-95% of my requests correctly. However, it’s that general reliability that makes the failures all the more maddening.

Ted Williams once noted that hitting in baseball is the only place “…where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer”. For something like Siri, however, the better baseball comparison is to fielding percentage. It’s essentially expected that a fielder will make a defensive play every single time the ball gets to them. All-star players will have fielding percentages approaching (and even exceeding) 99%. A seemingly high fielding percentage of 95% is somewhere between mediocre and lousy. Given the high number of errors Siri commits, it would definitely be sent down to the minors for more work, if not cut from the team entirely.

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