Monday, March 18, 2013

Apple's Siri ad: wrong poison oak

Poison oak iPhone ad, but it is poison ivy!
Ad for Siri and iPhone 4 in The Economist. 
Photo by Vilseskogen on Flickr, Creative Commons license.
In July 2012 Apple ran a print-ad featuring their new iPhone 4S and its Siri answering system, featuring the question "What does poison oak look like?" The photo above is from the ad printed on the back of the magazine The Economist.

The problem is that the answer Siri gave in the ad is not correct. That is not how poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) looks like, that is how poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) looks like. Both are members of the Anacardiaceae family, which also includes mango, pistachio, cashew and rose pepper. There are also several other species of Toxicodendron in North America, all of them toxic.

In fact, the photo shown in the ad is the photo of poison ivy from Wikipedia. Both species are toxic and give horrible dermatitis, but they occur in different parts of the country. Generally speaking, if you are on the west coast of North America you have to look out for poison oak, and if you are east of the Rocky Mountains and in the eastern part of the United States, you better learn quickly how poison ivy looks like.CDC has a good overview of the different toxic North American species in Toxicodendron.

The mistake was covered by several media stories, here are some: Philadelphia Inquirer, CNet and Neowin.

The dermatitis caused by these species can be very severe, and this is a plant group we all should be able to identify. If you ask Siri to look up poison oak you get the correct answer, so the botanical inaccuracy most likely happened in the making of the ad.  Since these are some of the most common and most toxic species we have in North America, this mistake is not minor...