This week I bought my dad an iPhone 4S for his birthday. On the way home, my wife and I gave him a tutorial on how to use Siri, Apple's new voice command assistant. I figured he would either love this feature, or want to throw the phone against a tree.
The result was somewhere in between.
My dad has been using an iPhone 3G since 2008. The learning curve was short: He took to the iPhone immediately. So the 4S was hardly foreign to him -- except for Siri.
"So now how do I text?" asked my dad, who has been known to respond to texts but not initiate SMS conversations.
I explained to him that he could ask Siri to do it for him. He understood the concept but had a hard time getting into a conversational rhythm with Siri. He would hold down the home button and Siri would beep that she was listening. Then he would clear his throat and think about what to ask. By the time he was ready to speak, Siri had beeped off and was trying to interpret his throat clearing.
"No Dad, you have to be faster," I said. "When she beeps the first time you have to speak right away."
I demonstrated and he understood.
"Try to tell it to call Mom," I said.
"Okay. [Beep beep!] 'Call Verna! And that's Verna Morris, you see!" my dad said loudly and declaratively.
"Sorry I don't see a Verna Morris Saychee in your contacts," said Siri. "Shall I search the Web for Verna Morris Saychee?"
My poor dad looked disappointed.
"Maybe just be a bit more concise, Dad," I said, trying not to discourage him.
"Okay. [Beep beep!] 'Call Verna!'" my dad said again.
"Calling Verna Morris," Siri said obediently, dialing my guinea pig mom who had already been the recipient of many test texts and calls that afternoon.
Next I tried to teach my dad to set himself calendar reminders. He had a doctor's appointment the next day that he wanted to input. He gave it a try.
"Make a note that I have to be at the doctor at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow," he said.
Dad was close. Siri opened the phone's native Notes application and made an actual note instead of a calendar appointment or a reminder. That was hard to explain to him because he wasn't wrong. He tried again.
"Make an appointment to be at the doctor at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow!" he said.
Bingo! Siri put the appointment in his calendar.
Dad continued to practice sending texts, emails, and searching for local restaurants. He caught on much faster than I thought he might. I was feeling proud of him and believed Siri would be a real productivity help in his life -- seeing that, at 77, my dad still works full time as a realtor. I was encouraged that he really liked and would use his new personal assistant.
Or at least I was until my mom called later that night.
"Your father and I were just practicing with his new phone," she said. "How do we get to Siri?"
Sigh. Well Siri will be great for my dad...if and when he remembers how to find her.