By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
You know it is a slow tech week when all anyone is talking about are the results you get when you ask your smartphone “What is the best smartphone in the world?” This is obviously a ridiculous discussion and one that has no practical bearing on anyone’s life or shopping decisions.
But just in case you have no idea what I am talking about, when asking the iPhone 4s “What is the best smartphone in the world?”, the answer you would have received as of a few days ago can be seen in the screen shot below.
Now, admittedly, and putting my positive impression of Windows Phone aside, the fact that the iPhone says that the Lumia is the world’s best smartphone is definitely ironic and chuckle-worthy. That’s about it.
It of course got more interesting when Lumia users asked their phones the very same question and got this response. Isn’t this mutual love between Apple and Microsoft just so beautiful?
So yes, both of these screen shots are real and funny. The analysis posts that followed were just a little bit ridiculous. See Danny Sullivan’s post here and MG Siegler’s post here, to name two examples.
Now to be fair, there is one major point here that needs to be addressed. Neither the iPhone, not the Lumia did the actual recommending here. The Siri result you see in the screen shot above was taken from Siri’s main database, Wolfram Alpha, and as you see in the Lumia screen shot, the recommendation is a simple web search that brings up a business Insider post named, “Yes, the iPhone is Still the Best Smartphone You Can Buy.”
So putting aside the slight irony here, there really is not much of a story. Wolfram Alpha recommends the Lumia and Business Insider has a post recommending the iPhone. No biggie.
Except, then something very interesting happened. Apple seems to have reprogrammed Siri to answer that question itself and not by forwarding the user to Wolfram Alpha. The answer it now gives to the same question can be seen below.
I confirmed this myself in both cases, and Siri definitely gave different answers to the same question before and after this story got out. Now, we all know Apple likes to do things its own way. That includes accepting and rejecting apps as it see fits. That includes blocking any form of customization on pretty much any of its products including the basic ability to swap a battery. Apple is widely regarded as the “Walled-in Garden of the Tech World.”
Now, we can debate this for hours, but the bottom line is, maintaining so much control over a product start to finish gives Apple the ability to offer a certain level of polish and intuitiveness, that its competitors can only dream of.
But this case is different. Putting aside your thoughts on the Lumia, last week, the most accurate answer to the question “What is the best smartphone in the world” was Lumia according to Wolfram Alpha and since that answer was not inline with Apple’s business interests, it simply changed it. In this case, it is not the end of the world, but think for a second of the implications of such a policy.
Imagine asking Siri for the nearest electronics store and getting only recommendations for Apple stores. There are obviously many other potential consequences to such a strategy but it is clearly a problematic move from a user standpoint. Is Siri supposed to be my “Personal Assistant” or Tim Cook’s (CEO of Apple, in case you didn’t know.).
If Siri is not an objective source of information but a new channel for Apple to push its marketing to users, then users need to know that and use it accordingly.
As far as the whole open vs closed philosophy, I didn’t really understand the big deal when people praised Google and trashed Apple for its policies. Until now. This just got real.