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A better Siri is critical to the iPhone’s long-term competitiveness
Apple is no longer the leader in a much more crowded virtual assistant field.
When Apple bought Siri in 2010, it ushered in the era of the virtual assistant. It was a truly differentiated feature vs. Android phones.
Over time, however, the lead that Apple had has been lost. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others introduced virtual assistants that now equal or exceed Siri’s capabilities. And Amazon Echo has a significant head start in the home.
Voice search and virtual assistants have become mainstream in the past two years. No longer are they novelty features of the user experience; they have become core to it. Rising usage has been followed by rising expectations. Thus a less competitive assistant, over time, becomes a potential liability for Apple’s main revenue source: the iPhone
Apple will announce earnings later this afternoon. The company is widely expected to report $77.4 billion in revenue and 76 million iPhones sold during the holiday quarter. Both numbers would be improvements vs. a year ago. The company has seen three consecutive quarters of year-over-year revenue declines.
While it’s still prized, the iPhone has become less differentiated from a hardware and design perspective and needs to compete more today on software, services and overall user experience. Siri becomes a key feature of that mix. And while Apple has continued to improve and invest in Siri, it needs to do more.
In June, at Apple’s developer conference, the company opened up Siri as a platform for third-party developers:
For the first time, developers can build on the intelligence Siri offers and let users interact directly with apps using just their voice. SiriKit helps developers easily design their apps to work with Siri for messaging, phone calls, photo search, ride booking, personal payments and workouts, or use Siri to control CarPlay apps, access climate controls or adjust radio settings within automakers’ apps.
Integrating third-party content and transactions into Siri is a potentially successful way to compete with Google, which has advantages by virtue of its massive index and search knowledge. However, it’s not clear there’s been much developer uptake.
Echo-Alexa has more than 7,000 skills today (vs. well over a million apps), which is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. But it shows there’s a growing developer ecosystem around that device. Alexa is also being integrated into cars, which may encroach on Apple’s Car Play over time.
Apple just joined the Partnership on AI, which is dedicated to the ethical development of artificial intelligence. Its representative there is Tom Gruber, one of the original co-founders of Siri. Gruber undoubtedly recognizes the importance of Siri to the iPhone’s long-term competitive viability.
Gruber’s co-founders left Apple and went on to found Viv, which was recently acquired by Samsung.