Today’s Apple Feedback: Group Emails Send to All Email Addresses of Each Contact on iOS

I used to use Groups in the Contacts app a lot, sending a weekly newsletter to over a thousand people each week.  Yes, I know that’s a silly way to do it, but it was a long event email that was mostly automatically generated (via a perl script I wrote) and I had a cron job that emailed me the automatically generated portion each week.  Plus, this was something I’d set up over a decade ago, before MailChimp was really a thing.  All I had to do was add my little blurb and type in the name of the group, and I’d be done in under 5 minutes. It worked very well for me. Eventually, when Mobile Me got sunsetted and iCloud took over, Smart Groups were no longer supported, which was rather annoying, so I ended up maintaining 2 copies of the group: the smart group on one computer, and a static copy of the group that I occasionally refreshed that I could use on any iCloud-synced computer. Ever since then, bugs pop up all the time relating to Contacts and I’ve reported each one. Most of them have to do with Siri’s usage of Contacts, but they also often have to do with the propagation of duplicate Contact Cards.  This new bug however, has to do with how the Apple iOS Mail app handles contact Cards in a static group.  Here was my feedback to Apple today after a chat session with a Senior Apple Support Advisor:

I created a group in my iCloud contacts called “Settlers of Catan”, which includes my wife, for whom I have 4 email addresses. When I type “Catan” into the “To:” field of an email in Apple’s iOS Mail app and select the group from the list of options in the drop-down, it adds all 4 of her email addresses, which I hadn’t noticed until she complained that I was sending her 4 copies of each email to the group. This does not happen when I do the same thing on my MacBook Air (the Apple Mail.app on the computer only adds the first email). It does also happen on my iPhone 6s. I chatted with a Senior Support Advisor from Apple and it turns out he has the same problem and was unable to resolve the issue. He submitted this same feedback as well. Please fix this.

The advisor I chatted with had had me try a number of things, including creating a new group, etc.  I even upgraded my version of iOS to the latest (11.0).  He was unable to fix the issue. All he could do was suggest I create a duplicate contact card for my wife that only had one of her email addresses.  I told him I’d rather manually edit the email’s “To” field after selecting the group, but thanks.  So he suggested I submit the feedback above.

I took a screenshot which shows that by selecting the group, it would add 4 email addresses for my wife (Zoë) even though the group had only 1 Contact Card for her in it:

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While chatting with the specialist, I mentioned another Contact-related issue and the advisor believed that it was related (because it had to do with determining what to do when dealing with ambiguous situations and clarifying what the user wants). And it had to do with how Siri responds when instructed “Tell my _____…”, such as: “Tell my mom I’m running late”. This is an instruction that relies on relationships stored in my Contact card to link it with other contact cards, such as my mom “Jane Doe”.  Often times, Siri’s response is something like this: “Which Jane Doe? Tap the one you want”, and it gives me a list containing 2 names: my mom’s name and my own name.

Here’s what I think is happening here… Siri is supposed to clear up ambiguities if she doesn’t have enough information. If I said “Tell John…” and I have multiple contacts named John, Siri should ask me which John she’s supposed to send the message to. Likewise, if I happened to accidentally add another mom relationship to my card, Siri should ask me which mom I want.  Or if I try to message mom, but she has 2 mobile numbers listed, Siri should ask me which number to use. However, I think that in the case of relationships, Siri is blindly searching for occurrences of the name I specify in my contact cards and it’s finding them in my contact card because it’s there as a relationship. So when I instruct Siri to tell my mom…, she finds the card for Jane Doe because the name matches and she finds my card because her name is entered in my card as a relationship!

I have a number of relationships saved, like my mom, dad, sister, wife, doctor, dentist, etc..  I even have a few relationships I created for an IFTTT phone number.  I added these contacts so that I could ask Siri to send commands via text to IFTTT using hashtags. I have one named “Groceries” that appends text I send it to a groceries.txt file I have on Dropbox that I share with my wife. I have 2 others: “Air Conditioners” to control my AC window units via WeMo and “Mac Mini” to send text to my computer hooked up to my entertainment center so I can enter searches on Netflix without using a keyboard (very handy!). I used to instruct Siri to send messages to these contacts just using their “names”, however Apple eventually tried to make Siri too smart and so when she heard “Tell Groceries bread hashtag add”, she started searching google instead of texting my contact named “Groceries”.  I got around this erroneous behavior by adding the “Groceries” contact as a relationship of type “groceries”. So now I just tell Siri “Tell my Groceries bread hashtag add”.  And that used to work well until this latest issue popped up where Siri asks me now “Which Groceries? Tap the one you want”, listing Groceries and me as the two options to choose from.

The advisor believed that both issues are related, and have to do with how Apple’s software is handling ambiguity.  I’m not so sure.  Yes, they both have to do with ambiguity, but Siri’s logic happens on a remote Siri server and Apple’s Mail app (I believe) is not accessing a remote server to decide which of my wife’s emails to include when composing an email to a group.

Other issues which have also popped up in the paste couple years have been: Siri’s inability to distinguish “in-laws” from my own parents/siblings and Siri’s ability to send text messages to contacts with short phone numbers, like those used to check when the next NJ Transit bus will arrive at my bus stop.  I used to be able to instruct Siri to “Tell NJ Transit 22222” and she would send “22222” (a bus stop code) to the 5-digit NJ Transit phone number.  Eventually Siri started interpreting this command as “Tell NJ Transit to 2222”, which I got around by adding a “to” to my command: “Tell NJ Transit to 22222”.  (That’s not my bus stop number, but it obviously does start with a 2.)  And then of course, Siri just started wholly refusing to send any messages to NJ Transit at all, and I believe it was because the phone number is only 5 digits.

I believe that Apple is trying to make Siri too smart and they are just getting in my way.  I have seen however that Siri does learn some things.  If I keep trying multiple times to get Siri to for example, send a text to “Groceries”, first she does a web search a couple times. Then I tell Siri simple “Send a text message” When I respond to the question asking who I want to send it to with “Groceries”, it works, and then after doing that a few times, she will respond correctly the next time I ask her to “Tell Groceries…”.  Now I’m at the point where as I said, I have to say “Tell my Groceries…”.  And after having used that work-around for awhile, now Siri can’t distinguish between my own card and the one for groceries (or my mom).  When I complained to Apple about the in-laws issue, the advisor I ended up speaking to confirmed the bug on their end by reproducing it and they actually fixed it!  I insisted to them that it used to work, because I frequently used the feature to text my mother-in-law, who was helping me with a house I was selling remotely.

Apple keeps trying to make Siri smarter, and if you ask me, they keep doing it rather sloppily.  They frequently seem to overlook how their various features will behave.  The in-laws issue was a prime example. Someone obviously wrote some code to always parse out “mother” and connect it to a contact whose relationship is “mother”, regardless of whether a contact exists whose relationship was “mother-in-law”.  The existence of that possibility didn’t occur to some programmer out there.  It used to work and Siri even interpreted what I said by typing it out as “mother-in-law”, but would send a text to my mom starting with “In-law…”.

I can’t help but think that this sloppiness started appearing in Apple’s development environment after Steve Jobs died.  They’ve been removing OS features and mucking up functionality ever since.

Today’s Apple Feedback: Siri’s clumsy podcast handling

The best place to podcast, in my opinion, is while you’re driving on a long trip. Podcasts keep me awake and alert when I am traveling between radio station coverage areas. But tapping through the podcast app is a no-no while driving. I recently was on a solitary road trip.  I didn’t have my wife there to play the podcasts as she usually does, so in steps Siri to help me control my podcasts. Here are some of the frustrating difficulties I ran into along the way. This is Today’s Apple Feedback:

I was listening to podcasts during a drive…

1. Siri forgot I have the latest podcast app installed after having paused playback:
noappheresapp

2. Siri hears me say “Play the Radio Lab podcast” and then tells me she can’t find a podcast named “Lab”. I must say “Play podcast quote radio lab end quote” to get it to work.
3. If you ask Siri to play a podcast that is unsubscribed or has a red ‘e’ on the only listed episodes, Siri says “Playing podcast…” and never plays anything without catching the error.
4. If I play a podcast, it goes through aux, but after using BT, podcasts end up on the headset and can only switch back by replugging aux wire.

1. As you can see in my feedback, I was happily listening to podcasts which Siri was kind enough to start for me. But at some point, I had asked Siri to pause playback, and the next time I asked Siri to resume, or play the podcast again, Siri informed me that I don’t have the latest podcast app installed! I thought, “Wow, they issued a required update in the past 15 minutes since I last got Siri to play a podcast?!”, so I looked on the app store update page and there was no update there for the podcast app.  I then searched for the podcast app, and it showed that it was installed and up to date!  I don’t know what Siri was complaining about, so I just had to resort to initiating podcasts via touch.

2. Apparently, the word “Radio” is, what we call in the programming profession, a “reserved word”. Siri assumes that “Radio” is not a part of the title of a podcast. I tried numerous times to get Siri to play the Radio Lab podcast before attempting the quote-trick.  She had correctly heard me say “Radio Lab”, but refuse to search for a podcast named anything other than “Lab”.

3. Usually, when we’re on a trip, we use my wife’s iPhone to play podcasts, so a number of my subscribed podcasts had gone stale and stopped updating.  Some had an orange circular badge with a white exclamation point in the upper right corner of the podcast icon. Other podcasts’ old episodes had little red squares on them with a white ‘E’:

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It seems that because of one or both of these issues, the podcasts would not play without manually touching the cloud/download icon.  However, Siri happily said “Playing podcast…” without informing me of any error.  At first, I thought that it was an issue of the audio being routed through the wrong device (headset versus headphones port), but upon asking, Siri informed me that no podcast was currently playing. I did note that using the download button and then tapping an episode to play it would initiate a buffering period, perhaps even a minute long, but I ruled out that as what was happening when using Siri to play an episode by waiting several minutes for an episode to start playing.

Ideally, Siri would see that a podcast had been unsubscribed or that none of the current episodes could be played and either inform me of a problem, or offer to re-subscribe to the podcast and retrieve the most recent episode.

4. I was having other issues with Siri-controlled podcasts. Numerous times, I somehow ended up with podcasts being routed through my bluetooth headset.  They had started out by default going through the wire plugged into the headphones port even though I had the BT headset on and paired.  When the audio unexpectedly switched, I could turn the headset off and audio would go back to the headphones port, but as soon as I turned the headset back on, it would default back to the headset. Eventually, I figured out that I just needed to unplug & replug the audio wire in the headphones port.  It seems that there should be a way to tell the podcast app which audio to use.  In fact, telling the phone which audio to use should be a feature universal to all audio apps (& Siri).  I’m all the time switching the audio for Siri and other apps because the defaults tend to be not what I want.  I even try to tell Siri that I want to send the audio to my headset or through the headphones, but Siri doesn’t know how to handle that request.  We need more control over the audio and its defaults.

If anyone else has had any of these issues, I’d be curious to know how you’ve surmounted them?  I’m still on iOS 7, so I’d also be interested to know if Siri and/or the podcast app have improved in iOS 8.

Today’s Apple Feedback: Siri, re-read that message to me again – Nope.

I have a few Siri-related pieces of Apple feedback today, as I just returned from a road trip yesterday as my wife waited for my arrival at home. We were messaging each other during the drive, and having Siri dictate my messages as well as read me messages I’ve received is a terrific feature that I probably rely on too heavily, but it’s so convenient and not to mention obviously safer than actually physically texting – also legal, because it’s hands-free.

Some issues with Siri reading messages are understandable, such as how she speaks things like “What’s your ETA?”, which she will pronounce phonetically as “What’s your ehtah?”.  However, if you don’t quite understand what Siri just said, she refuses to read messages (at least in some circumstances) a second time:

If you ask Siri to read your messages to you, she speaks the message, but if you happen to receive a message while she is speaking a message, the volume of her voice softens to an inaudible level so that the new message sound can play. What’s more is that if you ask Siri to read the message again, no matter how you try to refer to it (e.g. “previous message”, “last two messages”, or “reread that message to me”…), she will simply read the message that just came in or tell me I have no new messages. When driving, this can be a very frustrating problem. So I think it would be a great enhancement to give Siri the ability to reread messages, e.g. the “last n messages”, “last n messages from my mom”, or “the previous/next message”. Another acceptable solution would be to delay the chime.

I simply ended up giving up trying to get Siri to reread those messages and I put off reading them until I stopped for gas or a rest stop – or I would simply ask my wife to send that text again.

Of course, this is a first-world problem and for that reason, I considered not posting this feedback, but I am a programmer myself and a perfectionist.  I know if I was responsible for Siri’s interface, I would want to fix or at least mitigate something like this.

Today’s Apple Feedback: “Go home Siri, you’re drunk – no, not *my* home!”

When you’re driving, getting an accurate verbal confirmation from Siri about reminders she creates is important. The whole point of using Siri is so you do not have to look away from the road.  When you ask Siri to create a reminder, she speaks it back to you and asks you to confirm that it’s correct, and that’s great.  In fact, it works implicitly when the places you are using to trigger the reminders are your own: your home or your work, etc..  However, when you are using someone else’s address (e.g. from your contact cards), Siri refers to those places as if they were your house or your office, necessitating a quick look away from the road to be sure she got it right, hence Today’s Apple Feedback:

When I ask Siri to give me a reminder when I get to or leave from a person’s house or workplace (other than my own house or workplace), she verbally confirms that she will remind me ‘when I get home’ or ‘when you get to work’, which implies *my house* or *my office*. The displayed reminder location says (e.g.) “[person’s name’s] home”. It seems that that is what Siri should be speaking. Here is a screenshot example:

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Probably, not many people use all of Siri’s capabilities like I do, especially for reminders at locations other than one’s own home or work, but having an accurate confirmation is very important for safety reasons.  Siri knows that places are not my home or my workplace, in fact she displays the reminder with a specification of where the reminder will be triggered, so there’s no reason she can’t say (e.g.) “Here’s your reminder for when you get to your mom’s Home“.

Today’s Apple Feedback: Siri: “What did you want to tell them again?”

Do you ever find yourself re-dictating messages to Siri that were correctly interpreted the first time, but for some unknown reason, Siri had to ask you details about who the message is going to (even if she got the name perfectly – and it’s unique in your list of contacts)? The issue of Siri not recognizing perfect name matches in your contact list could be a topic for a separate post on its own, but how Siri handles situations where she has to ask for more information could be vastly & simply improved to not require you to dictate your message more than once, hence today’s (primary) apple feedback:

When I tell Siri “Tell my mom this is a test”, there are a number of things Siri can ask, like “Which phone number for [name]?”, “Which mom? Select the one you want” (which is a whole other issue), or if I use a name Siri can’t match (even though it’s a name Siri correctly interpreted & spelled and is a perfect & unique match to a contact), she’ll ask me which contact I want to use. In ALL of these cases, Siri forgets the message. After I make a selection, she asks “OK, what do you want to say to [name]?”. This is my issue. I already dictated the message and Siri got it. E.g. (this is a contact card for an IFTTT recipe, but the same thing happens with simple contacts too – I just haven’t screenshot any of those):

As I mention in the feedback I submitted to Apple, this is a non-standard example, so I see how Siri could have gotten confused, but once I’ve responded “Yes” to the question confirming she has the right contact card, she should be able to remember the message I already stated.

Siri also has some difficulty recognizing contacts whose mobile numbers are either short or who are companies without proper first & last names. For example, I sometimes take the bus and the transit system here in New Jersey (NJ Transit) has a texting feature where you can send a stop code to a short number to find out when your next bus will arrive at your stop. Siri has a little difficulty differentiating the numerical code from the end of the language leading up to it, especially since the code for my stop starts with a ‘2’. Let’s say my stop code is ‘22222’. If I tell Siri “Tell NJ Transit 22222”, Siri interprets that as “Tell NJ Transit to 2222″ and misses the first ‘2’. I get around this by changing how I say it to “Tell NJ Transit to 22222″. Even with this little work-around however, Siri still has trouble recognizing the NJ Transit contact card name:

Even though she knows I have a contact card whose company name is “NJ Transit”:

Again, this is an example which is non-standard, so it’s somewhat understandable.

However, forgetting the message after confirming she’s got the right contact number happens so frequently with regular contacts that I always state the phone number type at the end of my request so that Siri doesn’t have to ask me to clarify the number I want to send a message to.  If I ever forget to append “mobile” to my request and that person has more than 1 phone number (or iCloud email address) that can receive messages, I invariably end up having to restate my message. Unfortunately, I’m usually driving when I am dictating messages to real people, so I never take screenshots of those failures. It’s when I’m either waiting for the bus or appending things to my grocery list (via a SMS->Dropbox IFTTT recipe) when I have the time and opportunity to capture the error.

So my primary appeal to Apple today is to just save that dictated message. If you have to ask a question to clarify how to send it, at least if the contact name is an exact match in a contact card as compared with the initial statement, re-interpret the original statement to grab the fully dictated message. Then ask if the message is OK to send. As a secondary appeal: recognize company names, short mobile numbers, and contacts whose names are not proper names (i.e. names which can be found in the dictionary, like “Groceries”).