Back in 2011, Apple introduced Siri with a whole lot of fanfare when it unveiled the iPhone 4s. Positioned as the iPhone’s new flagship feature, the iPhone 4s launch itself was pushed back by a few months so that Apple could iron out a few of lingering performance issues with Siri. And though the Siri launch had its fair share of hiccups, Apple’s intelligent assistant has improved considerably over the past few years.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that competing intelligent assistants from the likes of Amazon and Google have seemingly lapped Siri across a number of different performance metrics. While the exact reasons behind Siri’s fall from grace can be debated — some point to Apple’s obsession with user privacy — a recent report from The Information articulated that political in-fighting has been hindering the Siri team for years.
The report reads in part:
Siri’s various teams morphed into an unwieldy apparatus that engaged in petty turf battles and heated arguments over what an ideal version of Siri should be—a quick and accurate information fetcher or a conversant and intuitive assistant capable of complex tasks.
Apple, at the very least, seems to be aware that Siri performance needs to be improved in a fundamental way. Case in point: The New York Times is now reporting that Apple recently hired John Giannandrea, Google’s former chief of search and AI. At Apple, Giannandrea will reportedly head up the company’s machine learning and AI initiatives. And speaking to the importance of his role, Giannandrea will report directly to Tim Cook.
The Times report reads in part:
The hire is a victory for Apple, which many Silicon Valley executives and analysts view as lagging its peers in artificial intelligence, an increasingly crucial technology for companies that enable computers to handle more complex tasks, like understanding voice commands or identifying people in images.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if Siri can eventually make up significant ground as it seeks to catch up to Siri and Alexa. The Giannandrea hire will certainly help and it remains to be seen if Apple will have any Siri performance improvements to divulge when WWDC rolls around this coming June.
As a final point, it stands to reason that Giannandrea will also play a prominent role in Apple’s self-driving car efforts, an initiative that Tim Cook previously categorized as the “mother of all AI projects.”