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Posted on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

15 questions about Ann Arbor for new Apple iPhone 4S's Siri

By Nathan Bomey


Apple's new iPhone 4S has an application called Siri, which uses voice recognition software to conduct searches and schedule appointments.

Photo courtesy of Apple

Everyone’s got an opinion — but it’s hard to squeeze one out of a digital device.

The Siri application on Apple’s new iPhone 4S seems to be more interested in providing facts than opinions.

Siri, which uses voice recognition software to answer the user’s spoken questions and schedule appointments, is already gaining a reputation for generating witty or creatively evasive responses to tricky questions.

The application is generating buzz as a sign of a shift in how consumers search the Internet and manage their schedules through digital devices. It reflects a shift toward artificial intelligence software influencing the way people find information.

So I decided it was time to ask Siri what it — or is it “she”? — thinks about Ann Arbor.

Siri had a little trouble understanding some of my questions — but with others, it displayed the elusiveness of a public relations pro.

During our conversation, I was a little offended when she kept referring to me as “Laura” for some reason — but I won’t hold it against her.

(Oh, and a quick disclaimer — I'm far from the first to interview Siri, so I can't claim this as my idea.)

The following are 15 actual responses to 15 real questions: Do you like the new governor of Michigan?

Siri: This is about you, Laura, not me. Do you think University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman is over paid?

Siri: It’s nice of you to ask, Laura, but it doesn’t really matter what I think. What’s your opinion of the new pedestrian safety ordinance in Ann Arbor?

Siri: My name is Siri and I was designed by Apple in California. That’s all I’m prepared to say. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what you think.

Siri: I’m not allowed to worry. What’s the best place to buy a book in downtown Ann Arbor?

Siri: I found 16 bookstores in downtown. I’ve sorted them by rating. (Lists Common Language Bookstore, Friends Bookshop, Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room, Aunt Agatha’s and others, but not Borders, which is closed.) Do you think the Michigan football team will win a national championship under Brady Hoke?

Siri: I think different. What are the prices like at Zingerman’s?

Siri: Checking my sources. Ok, how about a web search for “What are the prices like at Singerman’s?” (sic) Where can I see a movie in downtown Ann Arbor?

Siri: I found three movie theaters in downtown. (Lists Michigan Theater, State Theater and Ann Arbor Film Festival.) Have they caught the serial sexual assault suspect in Ann Arbor yet?

Siri: Sorry, I couldn’t find any sexual abuse treatment centers. Do you like hanging out at the Diag?

Siri: Sorry, this is about you, Laura, not me. Could a company like Apple survive in Ann Arbor?

Siri: I found a number of places matching Apple. Four of them are in Ann Arbor. (Lists the Apple Store at Briarwood, Blue Apple Inc., Green Apple Garden Childcare.) Are you looking forward to the new Costco store in Pittsfield Township?

Siri: I can’t answer that. What do they sell at Bongz & Thongz?

Siri: I found three lingerie stories not far from Pittsfield Township. Can I take the train from Ann Arbor to Detroit?

Siri: Sorry, I can only give directions starting from your current location. Do you feel safe in downtown Ann Arbor?

Siri: I didn’t find any home safe and vault suppliers.


Clearly Siri needs to improve but is already displaying the technological promise to reshape how people find information.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 10:34 p.m.

Even in an article about the new iPhone, you find a way to say something about Borders and it being closed. Can't you let sleeping (dead?) dogs lie? I know that you have less to "report" now that Borders is over, so how about a column stating your beef with the company?


Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

Kinda surprised siri didn't direct you to a dating website Laura.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

ha. this was funny, light-hearted and fun. with all the serious news, something like this is fun/enjoyable to read as well.

John Tuttle

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

"The Siri application on Apple's new iPhone 4S seems to be more interested in providing facts than opinions." Um... maybe that's because it's not meant to provide opinions? It's just an electronic device meant to present data to you and perform searches based on user requests. If you want an opinion, talk to a human being.

Snehal Shah

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Siri was never meant to be your girl friend. Ste Jobs would probably turing in his grave when he knows what all people are asking Siri!!!


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

Q: Siri, is anything going on in Ann Arbor that's actually important? A: Apparently not.

Kara H

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

Siri--why does this "Laura" think you have opinions?

Tom Teague

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

If nothing else, you've shown that Siri can bring the sass.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

My Android phone allows me to use voice for data entry. I asked about the train to Detroit, the Google results included results from something called "" as well as Amtrak info. It didn't speak the results to me, but does speak directions when I drive. Siri is just a gimmick to sell phones...


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

@ theodynes. Yup. Also, "where am I?" I drove out to CT last weekend and asked that question many times to see how much more OHIO I had to drive through. I actually started out my trip with "How do I get to the Super 8 hotel in Clearfield Pennsylvania?" And in about 5 seconds I had the directions I needed. Of course, there is the fun "I'm drunk" phrase and getting cab phone #s.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

There's a huge difference between simple speech recognition (which Google does well and maybe better than Siri) and full blown natural language processing. Anyone who has used both would tell you Siri is like nothing else on the market. Siri's ability to figure out intent is the point of differentiation. "How do I get home?" "Where is my home?" "Take me home" "I need to go home" "I want to go home" "Where's my house?"


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

Siri is not just the gimmick that is shown off in this article. The phone can now recognize speech anywhere where typing is needed (txting, facebook status, emails, google search, etc.) The accuracy of the voice recognition is incredible. Very rarely will it mess up, and when it does mess up - it is usually a word out of an entire phrase which is then underlined because it recognized that it probably did not type the proper word. It's actually pretty awesome.