BBC and Apple

BBC and Apple

We have started a complaint with the BBC that editorial guidance needs to be enforced more rigorously in order to avoid product advertising in editorial. Long time readers of this website might be interested to know that this time, it’s not Microsoft.

We have no reason to dispute RNIB’s assertion that brief:

blind and partially sighted people of working age [are] already amongst the most vulnerable and poorest in the country

Nor do we think that many people would dispute that Apple is a premium brand.

Accordingly we think there’d have to be a good reason for BBC Radio 4’s programme In Touch to point its target audience to a product that costs £499.99 to buy or £37/month for two years to get “free”.

On 21 February 2012 the programme devoted about 20% of its alloted time to a discussion of the joys of an Apple iPhone 4S and its voice recognition software Siri:(from transcript):

One thing that I’ve found very helpful is an application on my iPhone that tells me the name of all sorts of amenities within a two or three mile radius like restaurants and banks and coffee shops and supermarkets and taxis and so forth.

Yes I’ve been investigating the Siri software that comes as standard with the iPhone 4S. The concept is quite simple: You ask it a question and then it will trawl the internet or the information saved on your iPhone to try to find you an answer, sometimes with surprising results. There are some functions that aren’t working properly yet and it’s still in the public beta testing phase. Geoff Adams-Spink has been road testing Siri and I went around to his place for a demonstration.

I think the crucial thing to remember here is that this is not a piece of technology that is designed to assist people who are blind or partially sighted but having played with it for a number of days now I can tell you that I think there are a number of quite good uses it would have to people with low or no vision.

Well it does lots of dictation functions – so it can write and read e-mails to you for example, it can read your text messages and it can send text messages – but it can do so much more than that. I can tell you, for example, what’s in your calendar for tomorrow and then you can say well I’m supposed to be having a drink with Lee at 10 o’clock, I can’t really make that, cancel that meeting and then it will ask you – Do you want me to send Lee an e-mail or a text to tell her that you’re cancelling the meeting? I’m physically disabled and I sometimes find it quite difficult to use a keypad or a keyboard, so for me to be able to send you a text message would be incredibly useful, rather than having to tap it on to either a touch screen or a keypad.

I think the thing I want to say about Siri that’s different from other voice recognition products that I’ve used is that, for example, if you use voice recognition on a Mac or a PC it has certain set commands that you have to say in order to do something, like you have to say new mail message, you can’t say I want to send an e-mail, it’s absolutely rigid about the words you can use. Siri is different because you can use plain language. I’m going to ask Siri a question in two different ways but it’s basically the same question: Do I need an umbrella tomorrow?

And so on. You can read the rest yourself.

We don’t know Geoff Adams-Spinks but here he is presented as an individual with sight and physical impairments rather than someone who appears to make a living from promoting Apple products” (of course there’s nothing wrong with that nor with blogging about Apple).

However it was a chance reading of a news article about a failed complaint to the ASA that caused us to initiate a complaint about BBC editorial standards:

Siri, the voice-recognising virtual assistant on the iPhone 4S, is unable to direct users in Blighty to businesses, nor can it provide routes and traffic updates, because it only does map-integration and biz lookups in the US


The ASA concluded that the complainant’s expectations were too high. The belief that Siri would be able to direct users to useful local businesses was not implicit from the advert, said the ASA, and was an expectation that would not trouble the UK’s “average customer”, who, the agency asserted would have little knowledge of technology journalism or Apple product launches.

An article about using speech technology products (look what’s happening in open source software and how, for example, KDE are integrating it into its user interface) would seem to be entirely in line with the editorial objectives of the programme. This one looks like it breaches editorial guidelines on product prominence not least because there’s a link to the Apple website from the In Touch article.

UPDATE: 13 March 2012

A New York man has filed a class-action suit alleging that Apple’s adverts and claims about its Siri voice-activated info system are bunk, guff, bosh, and bull. For instance:

When Plaintiff asked Siri for directions to a certain place, or to locate a store, Siri either did not understand what Plaintiff was asking, or, after a very long wait time, responded with the wrong answer.

The magazine “Cult of Mac” opines why the new iPad does not include Siri:

The fact that Siri is so much dumber now than it was at launch points to Apple having problems ramping it up to the extreme demand of the iPhone 4S. I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that so many people are hammering on Siri right now that Apple has to devote far less time and processing power to calculating Siri’s answers, returning measurably less intelligent answers than just a few months ago. It’s like notching down the playing power of a chess computer: Siri is spending less time each turn “thinking” about its next “move.”

The BBC’s initial response was to rubbish the complaint but we’re not leaving things there

UPDATE: 29 March 2012

We haven’t heard back from the BBC yet, but instead we just seen a second class-action suit quoting a senior Apple representative, Scott Forstall:

[Siri is] like this amazing assistant that listens to you, understands you, can answer your questions and can even accomplish tasks for you.

A lot of devices can recognize the words you say, but the ability to understand what you mean and act on it, that’s the breakthrough with Siri.

The plaintiff complains that soon after purchasing his iPhone 4S the Siri Function did not work as advertised:

For example, he would ask Siri for directions to a certain location, or to pinpoint a business, and Siri either would not understand or, after a long wait, provide the wrong answer.

Then there’s the comments on the news article:

Here is why I don’t like Siri: no context. Everything works great if you get it right in the first go, but if you mess up you have to start the whole dumb command over. “She” appears to have the memory capacity of a gnat as evidenced by the following exchange (paraphrased):

Me: Siri, create a new meeting with Bill tomorrow at 4PM.

Siri: Here’s your new meeting: [Meeting, Bill, 4PM tomorrow] OK?

Me: Wait, change that to 3PM.

Siri: Sorry, I don’t understand “Wait, change that to 3PM.

Me: *sigh*

Looking forward to the BBC response