What the Heck Happened to Siri?

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Open mouth, insert foot: Siri apparently did something like that yesterday, responding to iPhone 4S owners’ questions with decidedly un-savvy answers. Answers like: “Sorry, I’m having trouble connecting to the network” and “Sorry I’m not able to connect right now” and “Sorry, I don’t have a network connection.”

But users actually did have a network connection—it turns out Siri didn’t, because Siri needs one, right back to Apple HQ, in order to figure out what you’re talking about and deliver a helpful (or occasionally witty) reply, whether what you’re asking about pertains to local content or no. Because her brain’s part-online. Because…you know, the cloud.

(MORE: Catfight! Siri, Meet Iris, Your 8-Hour-Old Android Rival)

No one’s sure exactly what happened, and Apple hasn’t offered an official explanation. Some users called into Apple for assistance and mentioned on Apple’s official support forums that customer support representatives were stating Apple was having “server issues,” that the service had been “overloaded” and that Apple was working on a remedy. The recommended solution at the time: “Try later,” and if that doesn’t work, “call back tomorrow.”

Word this morning is that Siri’s back, but without Apple’s official word on the apparent outage, it’s hard to say what’s going on.

In a much longer complaint thread, users have been unloading on Apple for what they view as a gap between Siri’s promise and execution.

“I swore up and down that I would never get an IPhone, but when they came out with Siri I just had to get one,” writes one user. “Now it never works and I’m kicking myself for switching over. I spent a lot of money on this phone just for Siri and it has been very disappointing so far.”

“Normally I’ve had very few problems using Siri. She’s usually there and eager to assist me,” writes another. “Today, however, I think she’s joined the ‘OCCUPY’ movement and has joined the General Strike…cuz I’m getting no cooperation or work out of here any of the number of times I’ve tried throughout the day.”

“Anyone else getting annoyed when watching the Apple TV commercial about how Siri works and how well it works?” writes a third. “Perhaps Apple should spend a bit less time and money on the ads and a bit more on both admitting that there is a problem and then fixing it.”

It’s not all doom and gloom—at least one user said the problem appeared to be intermittent: “No Siri all day. Just turned Siri to off and my Wifi to off. Enabled Siri and it worked immediately. I think it’s an intermittent software bug in the iOS that can’t navigate the changing network sources.”

Apple’s “get out of jail” card? Located in fine print at the bottom of its Siri info page, which reads in part: “Siri is available in Beta only on iPhone 4S and requires Internet access.” Still, it would help if the company’s public relations arm were more proactive here, to reduce speculation and promulgate the nature of the problem to confused and frustrated users.

MORE: Siri’s Guilty Secret: Data Guzzling

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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