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Nokia: Apple rigged Siri to name iPhone best phone

iPhone 4S
An Apple customer demonstrates the voice assistant program on his newly purchased iPhone 4s outside of the Apple Store on Broadway and 67th Street on Oct. 14, 2011 in New York City. The new phone, which went on sale at 8 am local time in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Japan, Australia, France and Germany, features a faster dual-core A5 chip, an 8MP camera that shoots 1080p HD video, and a voice assistant program. Getty Images/Michael Nagle

(CNET) Is Apple purposely tweaking Siri to stack the deck in favor of the iPhone? Nokia certainly thinks so.

Siri stirred up some controversy late last week in voicing its view on smartphones. When asked its recommendation of the best smartphone, Apple's voice assistant named Nokia's Lumia 900 the top dog.

Siri is now touting the iPhone as the best smartphone, much to Nokia's chagrin.
Siri is now touting the iPhone as the best smartphone, much to Nokia's chagrin. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

However, it didn't take long for Siri to change its mind. As of yesterday, the voice assistant is firmly back in Apple's camp. When asked the same question, Siri now responds: "The one you're holding," or "You're kidding, right?"

Apple can rest easier now, but Nokia is none too happy, accusing the company of playing with Siri's programming to control its responses.

"Apple position Siri as the intelligent system that's there to help, but clearly if they don't like the answer, they override the software," Nokia spokeswoman Tracy Postill told the Sydney Morning Herald.

A Nokia spokesman told CNET that Postill's remark was a "tongue-in-cheek comment that may have been taken a bit too seriously."

But either way, is it a fair accusation? No, not quite, says Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, who also writes for CNET.

Siri doesn't come up with such responses on its own; rather it relies on third-party sites and services, such as Wolfram Alpha, to conjure up the answer. Wolfram Alpha itself taps into reviews from Best Buy and other sources, according to Sullivan.

"The bottom line is that Wolfram has ratings from Best Buy, and it's not trying to weight those in any particular fashion such as number of reviews or number of purchases," Sullivan wrote last week. "The Lumia rates tops on Wolfram because four people gave it 5 stars, versus 86 people who give the AT&T 16GB version of the iPhone 4S an overall rating of 4.7."

So does that mean the Lumia 900 is no longer top dog at Best Buy or other sites, or did Apple tinker with the odds to better ensure Siri's tongue-in-cheek response to the question?

I tried phrasing the question a variety of ways, such as "What is the best smartphone according to Wolfram Alpha?" and "What is the best smartphone according to Best Buy?"

Yet no matter how I asked the question, I still received the same jokey replies favoring the iPhone. But Sullivan says that he and other users were receiving the same answers touting the iPhone even last week.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

This article first appeared at CNET.