You’ve seen the commercials: Two good-looking kids in their 20s cross the country on the ultimate road trip with the helpful talking search robot Siri as their guide. She helps them find a rodeo in Amarillo, and barbecue in Kansas City. “Remind me to do this again,” they tell her when the trip is over. “OK. I’ll remind you,” she says.
In another commercial, Siri helps a teenage wanna-be rocker through all the steps of planning the ultimate high school show in his garage including finding the sheet music to “London Calling” and “Whole Lotta Love” and even texting his friends the time and date of the big show. “Siri, call me rock god,” he says.
But in real life, Apple’s talking personal assistant doesn’t function quite so dreamily as it does in the commercials. She doesn’t always understand what you’re saying, and she often comes back with a wrong answer. For many people it’s a minor disappointment, but for one New Yorker the difference between how Siri functions on television and how she functions in real life was worth suing over.
Earlier this week, Frank M. Fazio filed a class-action suit against Apple, asserting that the company’s advertisements regarding the Siri feature are “fundamentally and designedly false and misleading.” Later in the suit, he calls the advertisements “a fiction.”
According to court documents, Fazio bought an iPhone 4S in November 2011. He says if he knew that Siri functioned so poorly, he would have bought the cheaper iPhone 4.
The question now is, does Mr. Fazio actually have a case?
He very well might, said Gerard Tellis, professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at USC. The key for Fazio will be to prove that it wasn’t just him who was deceived by the ads, but that a vulnerable minority also misunderstood that the claims in the advertisements were not entirely true.
In its own marketing materials, Apple specifically states that Siri is in Beta and will continue to improve over time. And in the latest commercials Apple issues a disclaimer stating that the Siri sequences were shortened for advertising purposes.
But Tellis says that simply offering a disclaimer does not exempt a company from being truthful about how a product works.
“The claims have to be substantiated in a reasonable laboratory environment and in field tests,” he said. “But what really matters is if the average consumer understands how the product will work.”