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On brink of iPhone 4S NZ release, outage reveals Siri’s surprising secret

UPDATE: Following reader queries about the amount of data Siri might send and receive - pertinent given NZ mobile data plans tend to have tighter caps than elsewhere - NBR asked Apple if it had any Siri data usage statistics for the average iPhone 4S owner.

A rep for Apple Australia-New Zealand replied: "No."

But despite that gruff response (a surprise given the number of questions on the topic on Apple's own support forums), it actually seems Siri is pretty efficient. After two weeks of tests, the well-regarded Ars Technica estimated the virtual assistant would use a modest 20MB or so a month if asked 11 questions a day; and around 11MB if you ask four to six questions a day.

That's peanuts, really - especially given that some of the time you're using Siri you'll be on your home or office wi-fi network.

A two-day failure of Siri – the iPhone 4S’s much vaunted “virtual assistant” – has revealed the surprising truth about the way the service works.

It was already taken as a given that Siri had to access the internet to answer queries, for Siri uses as her primary source for answering general knowledge questions.

But 48 hours of intermittent problems (over Friday and Saturday NZ time) have also revealed, according to, that Siri also goes online when answering basic queries, such as “when is my next hair dressing appointment?”

The virtual assistant is completely network-dependent.

The new iPhone could answer such calendar questions using information held on the handset, and its own chip, but it’s faster to send the audio file to an Apple data centre, where huge amounts of processing power are on-tap.

The downside: when there are problems with Siri’s online service, the virtual assistant goes totally mute.

In reporting the Siri failure, US media have focussed in on the fact the virtual assistant is a beta product (or “technospeak for not quite cooked yet" as the New York Times puts it) – a fact highlighted in Apple comments to NBR on October 31 (see here for the company's comments about Siri and the Kiwi accent).

Battery bugs resolved "in a few weeks"
The problems with Siri come on the heels of a series of software bugs discovered with iOS 5 (the latest version of Apple’s software that runs the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch). In some instances, the software glitches sap battery life.

The bugs have yet to be resolved (suggested workarounds and an update here). 

Apple told TechCrunch it hopes to have a software update out in "a few weeks" (iOS 5.0.1) that will address the problem.

The company says the bugs only affect only a small number of users. Many iOS 5 users have told NBR they are not affected by the problem.

iTunes Match a no-show
A third issue has been the non-appearance of iTunes Match.

The service lets you store your iTunes collection online (without the need to upload a song if it’s already in Apple’s catalogue), then access it from multiple iOS devices.

It had been scheduled to launch in the US on November 1 (and other countries at a later, unspecified, date) with an annual subscription at $US25.

Apple has yet to elaborate on the reasons for the uncharacteristic delay.

The iPhone 4S is due to launch in New Zealand on Friday, with sales through Apple’s website and authorised resellers, and through Vodafone’s website and stores.

Apple opened pre-orders last Friday. Vodafone has a preview page but is not taking orders yet, and has yet to post contract pricing. The telco has said it will update NBR today.

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

next there will be an "occupy Cupertino" because the internet is slow and my facetime wont work. Jeepers Id hate to think what else could go wrong... The biggest problem iphone users have in NZ is the less than reliable vodafone network that actually drops phonecalls which is slightly more important than a voice command feature that has a glitch. Maybe you should report on that!

the simple answer for isheep is to buy android and avoid being tied into what Apple is offering.

Owning an Apple product is like being tipped upside down and having ones pockets emptied.....

how can that be.. the samsung galaxy is just as much as the iPhone.. and the people i know who own the galaxy love to upgrade their phone when they can.. also when one gets a mac they usually keep it for a number of years since they are pretty well built and the os is miles ahead of windows... Android or iOS who cares as long as it works for you.

So, to avoid being a sheep, I should get into the Android camp and become a goat? You google fanatics seem capable of swallowing anything, so I guess that's apt.

This is no surprise at all. It was always known that the translation from voice to text was done at the apple server farm.

This is the second most popular reason for Siri being limited to the 4Gs (because the server farm could not handle all iPhones, iPod touches and iPads connecting at once). The top reason of course being to 'force' buyers to get the latest iPhone if they want the technology.

One blog measured the data at about 30mb per month for an 'average' user - 15 siri questions per day (from memory).

Once you go Apple, you never go back!

Keen to see what Vodafone will do with their plans and iPhone 4S price point.

Not me! I have been a smartphone user since 2004. I owned an iPhone for 8 months. It bricked on me three times, and I found numerous bugs in the OS. Couldn't wait to get rid of it.

Been an Android user ever since (now well over twelve months) and have never had an issue with Android (Nexus One, and now HTC Sensation).

At least now there's a choice of supplier for the fruity phone, with Telecom announcing it has become a reseller.

If every query is sent as audiofile to hq, that's got to be a bandwidth hog on any NZ mobile plan. I'm managing to get by on 100MB + 100 MB topup on Vodafone pre-pay with the Droid for $20/mth. Would be impossible on Siri.

Based on what I read suggesting 30mb per month that doesn't seem too excessive.

Especially if (say) 50% of that is when you are at home/office where you are on wifi.

note: reluctant BB user

Android fans are totally clueless when they speak about Siri.

Siri will be a Google killer during the next two years.


Thats rich coming from someone who is obviously a bigoted Apple fan. Consider this:

Most non smartphone users find Apple fans obnoxious. and that impacts on future purchase choices

I love the way Siri has some smarts baked in but my Samsung galaxy SII has had a similar app for eons... apple are playing catch up and failing... face it there is simply more innovation horsepower in the Android camp and this is ultimately a numbers game

I have never come a cross a phone that has something similar to siri no phone can understand what you say.

It's always amusing to see the Apple & Android devotees bashing each other. I'm brand agnostic at this point when it comes to choosing my next phone. If it works & does what I need it to do, I'll buy it.

Telecom are now selling the iphone and taking pre orders for the 4s...

Telecom are now selling the iphone and taking pre orders for the 4s...