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When the iPhone's Siri takes the day off

John D. Sutter, CNN
Siri, the voice-enabled
Siri, the voice-enabled "personal assistant" on the iPhone 4S, usually listens and talks back on a range of issues.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Siri, Apple's voice assistant, experienced an outage on Thursday
  • Apple has not commented on the reported outage
  • Siri is a feature of the new iPhone 4S that answers questions
  • Some iPhone owners have come to depend on her since phone's release three weeks ago

(CNN) -- Apple's voice assistant took an extended coffee break on Thursday.

Asked by the blog VentureBeat what she'd been doing during an apparent service outage, Siri, the voice-controlled "assistant" that's the standout feature of the new iPhone 4S, replied in a way that would raise any employer's eyebrows:

She just listed the names of a bunch of day spas.

"Siri where have you been all day?" the blogger asked. Her response: "I found 12 places matching 'All Day' ... 11 of them are not far from you."

Siri: Apple's new voice recognition
Siri: Apple's new voice recognition
Introducing Apple's iPhone 4S

Well, at least she responded. For much of Thursday -- five hours, according to CNN's partner site Fortune -- Apple's voice-controlled assistant wasn't functioning at all for some people, apparently because of a server outage.

Siri needs to communicate with computers that are in the cloud to understand and process voice commands, leading observers to believe something went wrong with that system. Apple hasn't commented on the outage and did not immediately respond to CNN's request for information.

Many iPhone 4S users, when they asked Siri questions Thursday, reported being greeted with this: "Sorry, I'm having trouble connecting to the network."

That message came even when phones were connected to Wi-Fi or 3G networks, according to the reports, which surfaced on tech blogs and Twitter.

Some Siri users felt kind of lost without their personal assistant. That's pretty amazing when you consider that Siri is definitely a new hire. The iPhone 4S went on sale October 14. But some people already have come to depend on her in those three weeks.

"(I)t was awful. I had to use the annoying google app to find a jamba juice!!" the Twitter user @The_Beer_Baron_ wrote in response to a question from CNN about the outage.

"She's usually pretty reliable although sassy," that user said.

Tech writers debated which management style might be best for this errant helper.

Sarah Perez at TechCrunch thought it might be best to cut her some slack. Or maybe not.

"Granted, Siri is still a beta product -- and this is what happens to beta products -- but when Apple promotes Siri as one of the best and OMG-gotta-have-it new features of its latest device through its cloying new TV ads, it's worth noticing when the service doesn't quite deliver as promised," she wrote.

Others see her responsibilities -- namely answering her owner's questions, finding directions, calling people and looking up songs to play -- as unrealistic given Siri's job qualifications.

Maybe it's too much to think the servers that run Siri -- a complicated and fairly new technology that's been tried and failed before -- would always be up and running.

"Not only is AI still in its infancy -- a condition it's been in for more than half a century -- but it relies in its current incarnation on networks and servers whose unreliability you can bank on," Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote on Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog.

"Good thing the iPhone still has a touchscreen."

Things may turn out OK though. So far, no one seems to want to fire Siri just yet.

Well, except maybe this Furby.

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