Siri may have been the first virtual assistant, but Apple failed to turn it into a leader. Google came out with Google Now and then Google Assistant, and Microsoft followed suit with Cortana. But Amazon dropped in, seemingly out of nowhere, with a voice-based virtual assistant that won the early fight of the voice assistant war. A new report revealed what went on at Apple since it first introduced Siri, and why Apple is now playing catch-up in this particular business.
Speaking to former Apple employees and developers The Wall Street Journal learned a part of Siri’s inside story.
Apple certainly has a great foothold in the virtual assistant business thanks to the millions of iPhones and iPads out in the wild. But multiple factors, including internal reshuffles and talent departures, an apparent lack of vision clarity, but also the success of the iPhone and the increased focus on user privacy are factors that “helped” Apple fall behind with Siri.
Sure, Apple has just given Siri new powers and a brand new HomePod, but it’ll be a while until it beats Amazon.
“People at Apple’s anxiety level went up a notch” as they watched Amazon demoing Alexa’s capabilities, a former member of Apple’s Siri team told The Journal. All of a sudden, a voice-controlled device for the home was able to do more things and understand voice better than Siri.
“A lack of urgency and difficulty bringing ideas to fruition,” kept Siri development back, The Journal says, after talking to former executives, close observers, and Apple users.
One of the anecdotes the report details concerns the hiring of Bill Stasior, a former Amazon search executive who arrived at Apple to oversee Siri about a year of Steve Jobs’s death, the man who brought Siri to Apple. But Stasior’s focus was on search, not speech or language which made some members of the Siri team think that he didn’t “fully appreciate the product’s original vision.”
Siri cofounders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus left the team and formed Viv Labs which was acquired by Samsung not too long ago. Half a dozen other members of the team followed.
Apple’s insistence on protecting user data is also what hinders Siri development, the report says, as Apple gives up control of user data too fast to gauge the impact of new Siri features. “You’re hamstrung,” former Siri engineer Jason Douglas said. “The iTunes store has great data, but the scale of it is not Google or Amazon.”
Finally, Apple’s reluctance to share Siri access is also one reason why the assistant failed to evolve at the same pace of Amazon’s Alexa. The Journal’s full report on the matter is available at this link, and it’s definitely worth a read.