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Apple: Without a Much-Improved Siri, CarPlay Will Be a Dud

Stocks in this article: AAPL GM SIRI P

Details on My Eyes-Free Siri Experience

Eyes-Free Siri in association with Chevy's MyLink in-car infotainment system, for the most part, performs only as well as Siri does. Because, as it functions, you are, for all intents and purposes, simply using Siri through your vehicle's dashboard. I have requests in to both Apple (not holding my breath) and Chevy (we'll see) to confirm, but from what I can ascertain the car doesn't control anything; it's all Siri. It's standard Bluetooth or USB link up with a fancy name. 

In other words, you can disconnect your iPhone from the car and do the same things with Siri as you can when it's connected. All you really get is the ability to be slightly more "eyes free" because you're able to ping Siri from your steering wheel, not your iPhone.  

Maybe that shouldn't come as surprise. Maybe that's what I should have anticipated all along. But, again, that commercial. It was playing in my dreams during the Olympics. As it ends up, the advertisement was tantamount to a movie where all the best parts surface in the trailer.

To activate Siri you press the little button with the face shouting below the phone receiver. But you have to press and hold it. If you just tap it, it brings the make a telephone call function up on your dash's touchscreen. (By the way, I made and took phone calls. Both worked just fine. Just like my Prius, which does not feature Eyes-Free Siri, at least not officially). After a couple seconds of pressure on the aforementioned button, Siri prompts you, the same way it does when you press and hold the home button on your iPhone.

*More images on Pages Three and Four 

Like the guy in the commercial, I had Siri read my messages to me. One time when I coughed during my verbal request for new messages, Siri told me she couldn't find any new messages from between January 1, 1970 and December 31, 1970.

I had Siri dictate text messages, set reminders, send Tweets and update my Facebook status. All the typical stuff that ends up getting done despite Siri misunderstanding after Siri misunderstanding. She has a habit of giving you the runaround before she'll complete even the simplest task.

Then I asked her to do the types of things I expected from in-car technology promoted incessantly during a major broadcast event.

I asked her to play my music. That worked. Siri fired up a shuffle of my iTunes collection. Again, standard Siri functionality whether you're going through your vehicle's dash or not.

But then I asked her to "open Pandora," something she can do for me when I tap the home button on my iPhone. That didn't work. In fact, even when the car wasn't completely turned on, Siri told me she couldn't do that for me while I was driving. Via Bluetooth, in my non Eyes-Free Siri Prius, I can open and close Pandora (and play it via Bluetooth) with zero trouble. One would think a vehicle that uses Eyes-Free Siri marketing would provide the same luxury. 

It's not Siri's fault, though. It's just that there's apparently some compatibility issue between Apple's iOS operating system and Chevy's MyLink.

For example, you cannot achieve full Pandora functionality (as in the Pandora platform with song title, album artwork, skip, thumbs up, thumbs down beamed to your car's touchscreen) via Bluetooth when you link the two platforms. You have to make a USB connection for that. Annoying, particularly if you don't want to charge your phone at something better than a low battery or you don't like the clumsy location of the USB port in the upper glove box on the passenger side.

And, in a curious twist, even with the USB connection, Siri won't open Pandora for you via MyLink. At least not in my experience. I had to manually open Pandora on my phone for MyLink to pull the platform up on the dash or even play it on the generic Bluetooth music screen. So a feature that touts not having to fiddle with your iPhone to do things effectively requires you to fiddle with your iPhone to access what is likely the most widely used app while driving and linking an iPhone to a motor vehicle dash. 

You would think Apple, assuming it still considers seemingly small, but, in practice, super important details, would get together with Chevy to find a fix for the issue. It's a first world problem, no doubt, but it's also something I reckon most people would expect to just work. And it becomes an even bigger expectation when you see Siri featured in Chevy advertising the way it has been.

See Pages Three and Four for images that show the way MyLink screens (and a recurring Pandora-related error message) appeared during my test run. 

I wish I could be more positive, but Chevy and Apple dropped the ball on this.

There's no way anybody should buy a car equipped with Eyes-Free Siri because of Eyes-Free Siri. After experiencing it, nobody would do such a thing. It's simply not a value add. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a weak marketing ploy. And, in my experience, it doesn't feel like it makes using your smartphone while in the car any safer. Peeking at my steering wheel doesn't distract me any less -- physically, visually, cognitively -- than tapping the home button on my iPhone. And, heck, if I really want to I can mount my iPhone on the dash and make Siri even more "eyes-free" than it is when manipulated from the steering wheel. 

Simply stated, I can do everything I'm able to do with Eyes-Free Siri in a Chevy Sonic in my Prius via my iPhone's home button and a Bluetooth connection. I don't have the touchscreen dash version of the Prius so I'm not sure how Pandora functionality works. But, on the ground, it's pretty straightforward -- if your vehicle is equipped with a microphone and its entertainment system will accept a Bluetooth connection with an iPhone, you, too, for all intents and meaningful purposes, can have Eyes-Free Siri. It's just not called Eyes-Free Siri in the marketing because there's, presumably, no official agreement to make it so. 

The advertising turns out to be a royal waste of time and money, IMNSHO.

And it begs the question I have been asking for months now: Why in the world does Apple either cede so much control over its brand image or go along with the whims of its partners?

For goodness sake, you have Wal-Mart (WMT) running around discounting iPhones like they're cheap Chinese t-shirts. And pathetically desperate Best Buy (BBY) just can't seem to get enough of these lame $1 iPhone promotions. Now you have Apple contributing, on some level, to GM's abject waste of a promotional budget. 

Tim Cook blissfully hitches Apple on the thoughtless, uncritical and, over the long-term, brand-crushing ride.

Think about it -- Apple gave General Motors license to heavily market a feature that's not even close to ready for primetime in primetime. Siri has barely made marginal improvements over the last couple of years.

Even if only a few thousand people experience the underwhelming nature of Eyes-Free Siri (which is basically no different from regular old Siri in the car), there's no excuse.

Just like the body odor episode in Santa Monica -- in and of itself, this is not the end of the world. However, it does point to the very real possibility that Apple's not paying attention to detail the way we almost automatically think it does. That maybe Tim Cook isn't running as obsessive and tight of a ship as Steve Jobs did.

On Pages Three and Four, see images illustrating parts of the Eyes-Free Siri Chevy MyLink experience ... 

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