Why AAA Says Apple’s Siri Is The Most Distracting

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The news hit with a jolt: a study conducted by AAA found Apple’s Siri to be the most distracting hands-free system.

After sifting through the report, there seems to be one important variable that was left out.


That variable is experience. The more you use a hands-free system, the more you learn its quirks so that it will perform better for you.

I’m not an Apple user; my phones are Android and BlackBerry. But after seeing Siri work well for my iPhone-owning friends, it was surprising to see it rise so high in this study’s measurement of cognitive load. Then again, most of my friends have been using Siri for a while, whereas I would not know where to start.

And so, with a study that recruited drivers via campus flyers at the University of Utah, it got a pool of people who likely had never used most of the systems. So really, what AAA was testing was the break-in period for each, that time when you are figuring out the ins and outs of the logic paths.

On the other hand, there is a fair amount of learned helplessness shared by my Ford-owning social media friends when I bitch about SYNC and MyFord Touch in the test cars. While it comfortably beat Siri in this study, SYNC’s very particular logic flow can still be randomly confounding over the long term.

So what happened with Siri?


Here’s the meat of it from the study:

With regard to Siri, it is also useful to contrast it with the “best case” natural listen + compose condition, which was rated at 3.08, and used Wizard-of-Oz technology [synthesized user commands] to achieve perfect speech recognition. Siri scored more than a full point higher on the workload rating scale (4.15), and this likely reflects the added complexity when the voice-recognition system is less than perfect. Siri can learn about accents and other the characteristics of the user’s voice, so it is possible that with extended practice the workload ratings might improve. 

Common issues involved inconsistencies in which Siri would produce different responses to seemingly identical commands. In other circumstances, Siri required exact phrases to accomplish specific tasks, and subtle deviations from that phrasing would result in a failure. When there was a failure to properly dictate a message, it required starting over since there was no way to modify/edit a message or command.

Siri also made mistakes such as calling someone other than the desired person from the phone contact list. Some participants also reported frustration with Siri’s occasional sarcasm and wit.


So it would seem that once you get used to Siri’s quirks, you’d experience less cognitive load. It may be a longer road to get there than most, as the inconsistencies it demonstrated could indicate that Siri is even more specialized than SYNC in having its own way of operating.

Apple-involving controversy aside, this study proves once more that Toyota has this game down pat.


Its Entune system has been a pleasure to use on every car it came with, and it is no surprise that its logic flow had the fewest brambles. Best outcome here is that this study encourages all hands-free makers to do a huddle around what makes Entune tick.