Does Apple have a Siri-ous problem?

If you’re to believe the ads, Apple‘s (Nasdaq: AAPL) Siri can help a teenager start a band and find a nearby restaurant serving linguica for John Malkovich.

However, the voice-activated digital assistant’s utility has come under fire from many of the users who actually own iPhone 4S smartphones, and the latest public smearing comes from The New York Times‘ Nick Bilton.

In a recent Bits column, Bilton takes Apple to task for Siri’s shortcomings.

“We have had some major communication issues,” he writes. “She frequently misunderstands what I’m saying. Sometimes she is just unavailable. Often, she responds with the same, repetitive statement.”

These are familiar problems. I’ve given up on Siri as anything more than a novelty. Between the outages and the misunderstandings, I’m down to just a few basic functions for Siri.

Things like email and text dictation sound great until it takes more time to correct the mistakes than to just peck the whole thing out one fat finger at a time. It’s true that Siri is in beta — and it will get better — but why is Apple spending so much money marketing a product that’s flawed?

Why market a product that a competitor may be about to improve?

Bilton says he’s been testing Google Voice Search, now available in Google‘s (Nasdaq: GOOG) latest Android update. He finds that it’s a more functional application. Who cares if it can’t tell a joke about two iPhones walking into a bar? At least Google Voice Search knows who Tim Cook is.

So where does Apple go from here? It’s been spending a lot of its marketing dollars on celebrity-studded ads pitching the casual merits of Siri, but it may be merely educating the marketplace on a platform that a rival — a cheaper and more popular rival at that — may be doing better.

The story doesn’t end here, of course. Siri will get better with every passing tweak. However, if Android and iOS devices have established voice-activated assistants, the competition will also need to listen and speak up.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has a history of spending big bucks to improve its chances in battles with Google and Apple. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) lacks the same kind of resources, but who knows what it’s capable of on the voice-activated front if it’s the BlackBerry maker’s last hope of holding on to the corporate market.

Things are about to get interesting, Siri. I hope your skills improve in a crowded room.

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A version of this article, written by Rick Aristotle Munarriz, originally appeared on

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