Is Apple's Siri a Scam?

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Mocked up press shots and doctored TV ads have been an advertising mainstay since the dawn of time. Apple (NAS: AAPL) is no different, and it's now getting sued because of it.

A New Yorker named Frank Fazio picked up an iPhone 4S late last year and isn't so impressed with the real-life performance of Apple's virtual assistant, Siri. Fazio has now filed suit and is starting a class action lawsuit against Cupertino on the basis of false advertising. The suit was filed in California this week, and here are some notable tidbits from the complaint:

5. For example, in many of Apple's television advertisements, individuals are shown using Siri to make appointments, find restaurants, and even learn the guitar chords to classic rock songs or how to tie a tie. In the commercials, all of these tasks are done with ease with the assistance of the iPhone 4S's Siri feature, a represented functionality contrary to the actual operating results and performance of Siri.

...

8. Defendant's advertisements regarding the Siri feature are fundamentally and designedly false and misleading. Notwithstanding Apple's extensive multi-million dollar advertising campaign showcasing the Siri feature, and the fact that the iPhone 4S is more expensive than the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S's Siri feature does not perform as advertised, rendering the iPhone 4S merely a more expensive iPhone 4.

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34. To the detriment of consumers, however, the bulk of Apple's massive marketing and advertising campaign, including its dominant and expansive television advertisements, fail to mention the word "beta" and the fact that Siri is, at best, a work-in-progress. Indeed, it is only through following a series of links within Apple's website, including a footnote at the bottom of a page, that one would learn that Siri is only a work-in-progress.

Source: scribd.com via The Wall Street Journal.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that Apple puts in this disclosure at the end of its commercials for a reason: "Sequences shortened. Coverage varies." I'll leave it to the courts to decide whether that passes legal muster to absolve Cupertino of misleading ads, but in fairness, that fine print looks like a billboard compared with some of the disclaimers you see on TV ads for prescription drugs, whose side effects alone might require another dozen additional cures.

While Siri is a selling point, it's not the only differentiator from the iPhone 4. For example, consider the upgraded 8-megapixel camera from Sony (NYS: SNE) , which displaced the 5-megapixel shooter from OmniVision Technologies (NAS: OVTI) in the iPhone 4. Incidentally, we'll soon find out which of these suppliers scored the new iPad's 5-megapixel sensor design win. Baird thinks the latter did.

Siri is pretty clearly beta software, which is by definition a "work in progress," so the complaint's assertion that a lot of digging is required is, "at best," an exaggeration. The beta moniker is right up top on Apple's Siri page.

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Source: Apple.com.

That being said, Siri has admittedly gotten worse over time, and even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak prefers his Google (NAS: GOOG) Android device's voice capabilities to Siri. That's even before considering that Google may be taking its voice competition to the next level with a full-fledged "Google Assistant" later this year.

Marketing is marketing. Apple isn't the first to exaggerate a bit, and it won't be the last.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of ARM Holdings, Apple, and OmniVision Technologies, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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