The Serving of the Snark

I’ve enjoyed all the recent tweets from the Mac intelligentsia as they try out various phrases with Siri on an iPhone 4S, and report back the often whimsical results. “Open the pod bay doors” is of course a classic, as well as “Beam me up” and “What’s the meaning of life”.

I think the sheer variety we’re seeing, and the, let’s call it the level of teasing, is directly based on how all the content comes from Apple’s servers, not the local copy of iOS on your phone. And that’s for three reasons.

1. Space. As we’ve seen, there are often multiple responses for each phrase. And there are different responses if you’ve repeated a phrase versus saying it new. While each response might only take up a tiny amount of space, 5-10 answers for every single thing Apple engineers think of responding to probably adds up.

2. Schedule. I would bet real money that at least some of the answers that have so tickled the Mac/iPhone tech folks were invented after iOS 5 went golden master, after all the exhaustive testing that was done to ensure that it worked well enough to ship. There just wouldn’t have been time to both finish the feature and add this level of polish for a 1.0 release.

3. Response time. This one’s the killer. I think the reason Apple can provide the cutesy answers that it does is in part because they know they can yank any particular answer in a heartbeat. Otherwise, if they came up with a snarky response that offended someone, that made the news and gave them lots of bad press, the earliest they’d be able to fix it on the device itself might be months away, given other iOS priorities and testing requirements. Apple has a large and busy contingent of lawyers, and I think they would have limited the OS itself to a much more conservative set of responses if they knew they might be stuck with them for a long, long time.

Instead, the Apple engineers must be feeling an unfamiliar sense of freedom. They can provide jokes to statements like “I need to hide a body” and “Talk dirty to me” and “Who’s your daddy”. I’m sure, at some point, we’ll find one that’s in bad enough taste that it’ll make the news.

But we won’t find it for long.

Note #1: I’ve thought a lot about Matt Gemmell’s “SEO for Non-Dicks” article, but I can’t bring myself to switch from whimsical titles to titles “that are relevant to the content”. It’s always going to be a pun or a reference or something. If it keeps me from getting hits, well, I can live with that. Good advice if you’re smarter than me, though.

Note #2: Since I’m talking about snark anyway, I’m going to throw in a plug for Dan Benjamin for his role as co-host on many of the 5 by 5 podcasts. Mostly he’s there to listen and goose things along a bit, but I find that his understated, deadpan snark makes the episodes a lot more enjoyable. The reaction of his co-hosts to the little digs he makes is classic. John Gruber plays along with even drier wit, while both Marco Arment and John Siracusa just kind of pause in annoyance before continuing. It amuses me, anyway.