America’s Most Valuable Company May Be in Danger – Vanity Fair
When Apple released the iPhone 4S in 2011, it touted a major innovation that no other device at the time could claim: a voice-activated virtual personal assistant, Siri. Siri was unlike anything else on the market at the time; you could ask it questions about the weather, use it to perform complex calculations, and have Siri make calls and send texts for you. But while Apple stayed focused on upgrading its flagship product, the iPhone, through the years, other competitors developed their own voice-activated assistants. Google Now launched in 2012, and Amazon launched Alexa and Echo in 2014, which, in addition to answering Siri-like queries, could do things like turn off the lights in your home. Microsoft announced its own personal-assistant software, Cortana, the same year.
As artificial intelligence advances, voice-activated digital assistants are quickly becoming the next frontier in consumer technology. But Apple, which was once a pioneer in the market, is now playing catch-up with its rivals. On Monday, Apple announced its own stand-alone product to compete with Amazon’s Echo and Google Home: the HomePod, which the company is promoting as a sort of sophisticated music speaker with Siri built in. But HomePod, which Apple spent years developing, is still nowhere near as sophisticated as competing products. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Siri’s progress has been slowed for a number of reasons, including the departures of some Siri team members and a slow pace of innovation (possibly due to the fact that the iPhone is still Apple’s flagship product). Apple’s commitment to user privacy—as well as its relative lack of user data, compared to Google and Amazon—has also limited its ability to personalize Siri or anticipate users’ needs. Although Apple’s stock has risen dramatically under the guidance of C.E.O. Tim Cook, some critics suggest his company has coasted on the success of the iPhone and failed to deliver a new breakthrough product.
Apple executives say Siri is improving. In an interview with the Journal, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue boasted that Apple switched Siri to a machine-learning system, which improved the software’s performance. “The key about things like Siri is to make it not feel like something you have to think about,” he said. Apple is also punching above its weight when it comes to searches: while Siri fields 2 billion requests per week, it’s competing against Google, which, by the estimate of Danny Sullivan, who covers Google and search marketing, completes about 3.85 billion voice searches a day.
But developers remain disappointed. In 2016, Apple announced 150 new intents, or commands, for Siri at its WWDC developers’ conference—still far fewer than the 12,000 available with Amazon. “People went from being happy and excited to sitting in workshops and realizing, ‘I can’t use it,’” Brian Roemmele, a developer who attended the conference, told the Journal. “Some went back to that attitude: Siri’s always going to be dumb. They moved on to developing for Google and Alexa.”