Report: How Apple squandered Siri’s lead over Amazon and Google


A new report from The Information details the development of Siri, based on speaking with a dozen former Apple employees who were responsible for Siri’s development and integration. The former employees spoke under condition of anonymity, and they paint an embarrassing picture of mismanagement that has led to the decline of Siri.

In 2011, when the iPhone 4s was introduced, Siri was a game-changer. No other phone had anything like it, and Apple knew it. The iPhone 4s TV ads focused on Siri, with celebrities like Martin Scorsese and Zooey Deschanel talking to their phone (“Is that rain?”). It was magical! Today, Siri’s many failures have become a meme, while Alexa and the Google Assistant have raced ahead with greater capabilities and integration with other products and services. Worse, Siri’s underperformance is dragging down important new products like HomePod.

Why has Siri stagnated? 

Siri began life as a third-party iPhone app when Apple purchased it for an undisclosed sum in 2010 (some reports put the figure at over $200 million). The Information’s sources say that Siri’s problems go all the way back to the very beginning, where the company, “rushed Siri into the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully baked, setting up an internal debate that has raged since Siri’s inception over whether to continue patching up a flawed build or to rip it up and start from scratch.”

The Information quotes a former Siri team member as saying, “When Alexa shipped, it was rock solid from day one. For Siri to get there, they almost need to set everything aside and start over.”

The article paints a picture of an original vision for Siri that has been compromised by multiple shifting managers and internal infighting.

At its inception, Siri was envisioned as a platform that developers could freely tap into, an “App store for AI” that would allow users to “orchestrate the internet through conversation.” In order to launch Siri on time, Apple had to put that mission on pause and focus on a few core capabilities that it would have complete control over. But Steve Jobs was apparently a huge believer in the core mission, and promised that the “App store for AI” vision would be realized later.

Steve Jobs died the day after Siri was introduced, and the project lost its coherent, driving vision.

After launch, Siri proved more popular than expected, with far more requests coming in than anticipated. The back-end software struggled to keep up, and the Siri team scrambled to improve the bug-ridden and unoptimized code to make it operate at such a large scale.


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