Siri's Blemishes Aren't Actionable, Court Says

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Disgruntled Apple customers cannot advance claims that the voice-activated Siri function on the iPhone 4S does not work as advertised, a federal judge ruled.
     Apple launched the iPhone 4S in October 2011 for a starting price of $199, while its previous model, the iPhone 4, started at $99. The 4S was Apple's first product to include Siri, a voice-activated "intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking," according to Apple's press release.
     Other press releases featured Siri answering spoken questions and responding to spoken commands, such as setting alarms, getting directions, making calls to a specific person and scheduling meetings.
     The company launched a massive nationwide marketing campaign for Siri that included email solicitations urging people to buy the 4S as a holiday gift. Internet videos for Siri touted that she could both recognize words and understand what users are saying to it.
     Apple also created television commercials for the iPhone 4S in which people used Siri to, among other things, check traffic and weather conditions, play music, and perform conversions. "Seven out of ten commercials Apple used to market the iPhone 4S focused solely on Siri," and all of them showed Siri responding quickly and accurately, the ruling states.
     Despite the extra $100 on the price tag, almost 90 percent of the iPhones sold in the first fiscal quarter of 2012 were 4Ss.
     Some who bought the device, however, were not pleased with Siri's real-life performance.
     Frank Fazio hoped to represent a class in March 2012 with claims that Siri did not work as advertised, claiming that she often could not find locations and responded with "I don't know" when asked questions, or failed to respond at all.
     Fazio's case was consolidated with other suits brought by Carlisa Hamagaki, Daniel Balassone and Benjamin Swartzman, alleging false advertising, unfair competition, breach of express warranty, intentional misrepresentation and other charges.
     U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in San Francisco dismissed the class action in July 2013 with leave to amend, saying that the plaintiffs did not identify enough specific statements that were misleading and did not allege how they were fraudulent.
     The amended complaint failed to sway Wilken as well, however, and she dismissed the action with prejudice Friday.
     "Plaintiffs still fail to isolate the particular statements at issue and explain each statement's false and misleading nature," the 21-page ruling states. "Although the [complaint] now names the advertisements that each individual plaintiff viewed, this is not equivalent to what the court required, which is to identify the specific statements within those advertisements that were false and misleading. Although plaintiffs generally describe the contents of those commercials or advertisements in a separate section of the [complaint], that does not give Apple sufficient notice of which representations caused the deception alleged. The descriptions of those commercials and advertisements include a plethora of statements. [...] Apple would be hard-pressed to defend against an allegation that the overall impact of these commercials and advertisements mislead plaintiffs."
     Though the plaintiffs did isolate statements describing Siri as a "breakthrough" and "an intelligent personal assistant," Wilken dismissed these statements as "non-actionable "puffery" because they merely depict the iPhone 4S as superior to other products
     Wilken also found it "unacceptably ambiguous" for the plaintiffs to allege that they expected Siri to consistently perform flawlessly like it did in the commercials.
     Though the plaintiffs were told to estimate a certain percentage of how often they expected Siri to work successfully, they did not elaborate on that issue, leaving Apple and the court to guess at the acceptable standard of performance, the ruling states.
     Wilken thus dismissed the plaintiff's fraud-based claims because, without more information, the court "cannot determine whether plaintiffs have properly plead that a misrepresentation occurred, including the questions of whether plaintiffs were justified in inferring such a standard from the advertisements, whether a reasonable consumer would perceive the same standard, and whether Siri failed to meet such a standard, and how Apple would be shown to have known Siri did not meet the expected standard."
     As to the false advertising and unfair business practices claims, Wilken found no proof that a reasonable consumer would expect the device to function perfectly each time it was used.
     "Apple made no promise that Siri would operate without fail," Wilken wrote. "A reasonable consumer would understand that commercials depicting the products they are intended to promote would be unlikely to depict failed attempts. Absent a representation that a product feature would perform at a certain level, a reasonable consumer is unlikely to be deceived by advertising that merely demonstrates a product has such a feature."
     Wilken also dismissed the warranty claims because the plaintiffs did not give Apple reasonable notice. Though Fazio and Balassone and Swartzman informed Apple that Siri allegedly did not work as advertised and that they would wait 30 days for a response, Fazio filed his lawsuit the same day he sent his letter while Balassone and Swartzman waited only four days.
     Even if they had given Apple adequate notice, their claims would still fail because they failed to identify specific advertisements to support their claims and instead relied on their inadequately plead fraud allegations, according to the ruling.
     Wilken said further amendments would be futile.
     "Because plaintiffs have given no reason to believe that a fourth amended complaint would succeed in stating a claim, the [complaint] is dismissed without leave to amend," she wrote.