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Apple's Siri Still Hates the British. And Southerners

 

Siri makes the new Apple iPhone 4S incredibly easy to use … as long as you're not from England. Or Scotland. Or Tennessee. Or Mexico.

When the new smartphone launched in October, numerous reports indicated that Siri, its built-in voice-recognition app -- one of the biggest reasons for buying the newest Apple gadget -- struggled with accents and regional dialects. And despite two months of additional development and updates, Apple has yet to resolve the iPhone's issues with accented Americans, users told FoxNews.com.

"It just didn't understand," Joanna Randell, a content manager for a branding firm and a native of Nottingham, England, told FoxNews.com.

Siri comes with support for five languages: three dialects of English (U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia), French and German. But switching to a different language dramatically limits Siri's functionality, Randell said.

"If you want to use it to search for a place or a location on a map, you have to use the American version -- you can't use the British version," Randell explained. Try to find a post office or drug store with British English enabled, and Siri will demurely decline.

"Sorry, I can only look for businesses in the United States and when you're using U.S. English," Siri apologetically explains.

And Siri still doesn't get Randell's accent. "I tried it with the American one and I had to switch, I wasn't getting anywhere," she said.

That's bad news, and not only for Swedes in San Francisco and Aussies in Atlanta. It's also bad for numerous Americans with regional dialects, because, apparently, U.S. English doesn't include Southerners.

"Siri's most common reply to me is that 'it didn't quite get that,'" Gizmodo tech editor Mat Honan wrote recently. "Is this due to my (very slight!) Southern accent?"

“I grew up in Alabama, and lived in Georgia for some time too,” Honan told FoxNews.com, “but it's not like I'm Gomer Pyle.”

"If I wanted a half-baked voice-control system, I could snag an Android phone for $49 at T-Mobile," he groused.

A growing number of accented Americans have taken to Apple's forums to voice their complaints in the only language Apple tech support understands: the written one.

“I have a Spanish accent and Siri does not understand anything I say," one user wrote.

"I grew up in Philadelphia, PA, and have lived in the U.S. my whole life, and Siri makes a lot of mistakes when I speak," another complained.

Not everyone has the same challenge or experience; a heavily accented editor of FoxNews Latino says he has no problems communicating with Siri, for example.

Still, as Apple's smartphone rolls out to new markets worldwide, new users are encountering the same old glitch. A recent story on The Register noted that users in Bangalore, India, were struggling to get their smartphones to understand them.

To be fair, accents vary quite dramatically throughout India, the Register noted. Many Indian 4S owners have reported having no problems getting Siri to understand them. But tell that to the customers, many of whom continue to complain on Apple's discussion boards.

"My Siri does not understand anything I say. I have an Indian accent but most other voice recognition software works well with me. Is it Siri or is it me?" one user wrote.

Apple did not respond to FoxNews.com requests for more information, but the company has an excuse: The iPhone 4S has been on sale for two months, but Siri is still in "beta," according to the company’s website.

"As more people use Siri and it’s exposed to more variations of a language, its overall recognition of dialects and accents will continue to improve, and Siri will work even better," a statement on the site explains.

In other words, Apple will improve Siri -- at some point.

One user fixed Siri the easy way: He ditched his iPhone entirely.

"I have solved my problem/frustration with Siri and my Spanish accent: I changed my iPhone for a Samsung Galaxy S II and the voice recognition is much, much better -- plus this phone has a Spanish [language] voice-recognition option too."

Meanwhile, Apple plans to expand Siri's support for accents. In 2012, the company will add support for speakers of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish.

So Siri may still have problems with Italian-accented English, but at least it'll speak Italian.

 

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.