Former Apple employees reflect on Siri’s ‘squandered lead’ over Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant

“Apple’s 2011 ‘Let’s talk iPhone’ event at its Cupertino headquarters was a pivotal moment for the company,” Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin report for The Information. “It was the first big showcase for new CEO Tim Cook as he tried to fill the shoes of the legendary but ailing Steve Jobs. Yet the event threatened to disappoint because the company’s new iPhone, the 4s, was simply an incremental update and not a flashy new iPhone 5.”

“Siri saved the day. Apple unveiled the digital assistant and showed off its ability to respond to voice commands that created reminders, scheduled calendar events or brought up information on restaurants or weather,” Tilley and McLaughlin report. “Critics marveled at Siri’s potential and speculated that Apple might have developed another revolutionary product. Customers seemed to agree, and three days after the iPhone 4s launched, Apple had sold four million devices, at the time making it the fastest-selling iPhone ever.”

“Fast forward seven years, and Siri is a problem,” Tilley and McLaughlin report. “It’s arguably the main reason that Apple’s latest product launch — a $349 smart speaker called HomePod — has underperformed, based on early estimates from analysts. Although the speaker won plaudits for its sleek look and audio quality, review after review trashed the Siri functionality with words like ‘dopey,’ ‘annoying’ and ’embarrassingly inadequate.'”

Read more in the full article (subscription required) here.

“The article includes interviews with a dozen former Apple employees who worked on the various teams responsible for the virtual assistant,” Joe Rossignol reports for MacRumors. “The report claims that many of the employees acknowledged for the first time that Apple rushed Siri to be included in the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully ready, resulting in several internal debates over whether to continue patching up the half-baked product or start from scratch.”

“The team working on Siri was overseen by Apple’s then iOS chief Scott Forstall, but his attention was reportedly divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of Apple Maps. As a result, Forstall enlisted Richard Williamson, who was also managing the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri team,” Rossignol reports. “According to the report, several former employees said Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the Siri team disagreed with, including a plan to improve the assistant’s capabilities only once a year.”

“Another interesting tidbit is that the Siri team apparently didn’t even learn about the HomePod until 2015,” Rossignol reports. “Apple responded to today’s report with a statement noting Siri is ‘the world’s most popular voice assistant’ and touted ‘significant advances’ to the assistant’s performance, scalability, and reliability.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: McDonald’s makes the world’s most popular hamburger and, despite claimed “significant advances” over the years, it’s clearly not the best hamburger in the world. Windows is the world’s most popular desktop operating system. Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Need we go on?

A company headed by a caretaker CEO issues empty statements such as, “Siri is the world’s most popular voice assistant.”

A company led by the CEO who built it thought differently: “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Apple released Siri, the first modern digital virtual assistant, in October 2011. Amazon released Alexa in November 2014. Google Assistant was released in May 2016… Why is Siri not regarded as far and away the best, but rather as notably worse than those later entrants?

Mismanagement of the project from the software to the marketing. — MacDailyNews, February 8, 2018

Let’s face it, Tim Cook’s passion isn’t for creating great products, it’s for other things. A man who is, right now, at this very moment, selling a four-year-old computer as his company’s top-of-the-line simply isn’t fit for the job.

Tim Cook has either lost control of his cadre of VPs (he never had any control of Jony) and/or he’s lost the plot.

Here’s hoping that Cook can regain his focus somehow or that he cedes his position to someone who is capable of passionately focusing on, and getting the rest of his team to focus on, creating great products that delight customers once again.

SEE ALSO:
Why has Apple’s reputation plummeted? – March 14, 2018
Apple tumbles 24 spots – from 5th to 29th – in Harris Reputation Poll – March 13, 2018
Siri creator is surprised by how much Apple’s Siri still can’t do – March 9, 2018
Apple shakes up software development strategy to focus on quality – February 12, 2018
What Apple needs to do to improve Siri – February 8, 2018
Apple on Mac flaw: ‘We apologize to all Mac users. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes.’ – November 29, 2017
Tim Cook’s sloppy, unfocused Apple rushes to fix a major Mac security bug – November 29, 2017
What to do about Apple’s shameful Mac security flaw in macOS High Sierra – November 29, 2017
Under ‘operations genius’ Tim Cook, product delays and other problems are no longer unusual for Apple – November 20, 2017
Apple’s desperate Mac Pro damage control message hints at a confused, divided company – April 6, 2017
On the future of Apple’s Macintosh – February 6, 2017
Apple is misplaying the hand Steve Jobs left them – November 30, 2016
Open letter to Tim Cook: Apple needs to do better – January 5, 2015

38 Comments

  1. “What Steve Jobs did with beautiful design work Tim Cook is doing with free cash flow.”
    Stock rises, market cap grows, margins remain high…intertia drives, while elemental features/products see erosion.

    1. Well, we still don’t know if Apple’s HomePod is as efficient in transmitting audio to the C!A as the Amazon Echo and Google Assistant is.

      Perhaps that could be the subject of a PCworld article; a surreptitious listening device shoot-out.

      That could be a fun read. No?

      1. You bring up a great point. We all know that at high volumes Siri’s microphones work much better at picking up room audio compared to Google or Amazon’s products.. I think the CIA approves.

    2. I appreciate Tim wanting to be involved in world issues but the company that keeps him employed and the company that has advanced computers, phones and tablets whether nay-sayers agree or not, is falling behind. I thought Steve left a lot of open patents for new products for Apple in the future. Google and Alexa are Siri, yet, Tim and his crew have not taken advantage of Apple’s leadership, instead putting Apple behind instead of ahead. I miss Steve Jobs as I knew this would happen. What happened to Wozniak?

  2. Go ahead and downvote this comment but Siri literally sucks. I hate the thing and I never use it because it’s so much faster for me to simply do whatever task I have to do manually.

    I’ve been embarrassed by Siri for a long time. Amazon and Google have shamed Siri with what they are able to do with their digital assistance AI capabilities.

  3. I am not a Tim Cook fan at all. Time for him to go as of 2016. Just get the products done right. MDN should start a list of all the embarrassing moments performed at Apple since his becoming CEO. .

    1. And replace him with?

      There’s NO other CEO out there that has had experience leading a company worth this much. And, those that are close are not likely to leave their current well paying gigs. I GUESS we could replace him with “anonymous internet commenter” but I really have no idea how well “anonymous internet commenter” would do.

  4. SIRI is fucking terrible. And I’m trying my best to keep the bar as low as possible. SIRI is terrible at things it was supposed to do 6 years ago. It’s pathetic. I have the HomePod and I cringe every time I try to use it. Not having a visual interface means SIRI needs to be excellent. But SIRI is still shit. I could list a ton of basic examples but it gets tedious.. playlists will only start from the beginning.. it doesn’t recognize artist names that remotely deviate from perfect English (which is a ton of them).. doesn’t even recognize some of the content on apple music even when it’s also on my phone.. cant give more than one command at a time.. on and on and on..

    I’ve never, ever been a Cook basher. But at this point he should have done something. Seems like firing eddie cue should’ve been done a long time ago (yet he’s now being given a blank check to buy content; of all people cue is being trusted to have good taste???? Unbelievable.). At this point Apple should have thousands of employees working on SIRI, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    As both an Apple fan and an Apple consumer, SIRI definitely qualifies as “embarrassingly inadequate,” and is beyond frustrating.

    1. I’m fairly patient as a Mac user and fan (and I have no Ill will against Tim Cook), but I have to agree with you 100%. Siri is so crappy that I have all but given up. Her utter lack of context is mind blowing. I used to try to call the same coffee shop (which was in my favorites) from my car every weekend. No go- I finally gave up. Trying to play music is very spotty. It is incredibly frustrating and distracting as a driver. She understands my wife’s name and correctly calls her 95% of the time. Texts about 60%. For some reason voice recognition on my iPhone X seems to have taken a step backward. BTW, I use dragon for a living so I know how to dictate. Bummed.

    2. Patchy is correct. I too own the HomePod and Siri is at best a fun little toy of a distraction for family members. But to depend on Siri or the HomePod to do something a bit more serious, or where perfect diction is required, forget it.

      Siri needs a major upgrade and APPLE should be ashamed of itself for allowing their leadership in this technology to slip.

      As exemplified by Mr. Cue, many at APPLE has gotten too fat, lazy and happy with where they are. I worry they are becoming Microsoft of 30 years ago.

      Another thing I don’t like is the way APPLE is returning its cash to shareholders versus continuing to build the nest egg. I remember JOBS saying that there would be great opportunities in the future requiring an enormous sum of money, hence the reason for the cash horde. I believed JOBS then and still do. I like the idea of APPLE having TONs of cash it could use at a moments notice to buy or crush any opponent.

      Where is our Mac Pro? Where is our desktop super computer?

      Tim, make yourself super CEO, move out of the leadership role, and put someone else in charge who has a fire in their belly to make APPLE the best. And for God’s sake, move Eddie Clueless out the door.

  5. A chain is as strong as its weakest link…

    Apple has to at the least bring it up to par if not surpass… whatever it takes….. not doing so is not an option!

    Apple Ai .. from spell check .. to contextual understanding to Siri.. and inconsistent implementation of ai across the ecosys truly suck.

  6. Apple has an organizational structure similar to the fraternity in Animal House. It’s a bunch of people doing whatever Tim Cook says.

    It’s about time Apple get a real CEO and implement a structure with real lines of business, profit centers, and real product accountability. Such a structure would motivate every product line to excel to its fullest. Such a structure would also maintain important product like the Airport line and the Mac Pro line with the same intensity as the phone and the Mac. They are all important parts of the ecosystem.

    I propose Ed Breen be hired away from Dow/Dupont. He is an organizational genius, who has the right mindset to put the right people in each spot to get the most out of the largest corporation in the world. Tim Cook has served his purpose. He is now over his head and does not even understand the things that need to be done. He is not capable of producing the real change that is needed to ensure that Apple continues to compete.

    1. I can tell you that what you’re calling for would mean the end of the Mac, like, yesterday. Apple could do pretty much ANYTHING else, they could sell used handkerchiefs with the Apple logo on them and make more money in 5 minutes than the trash can Mac Pro has made over it’s entire lifetime. I don’t know who inside Apple is trying to keep the Mac going, but if Steve were around, the Mac would not be. They just don’t fit his view of the PostPC world.

      1. I could say you are wrong, again. But this is the first time with me.

        Steve would be supporting the Mac in a far more aggressive way than now. At the same time, Steve Jobs is the one responsible for the utter absence of an organization. Tim Cook just continued that because he doesn’t know any better. But Apple is far bigger than in those days and it needs to do far more to grow as the worlds largest company. And there is more product line now to defend. Ford makes most of its money on pick up trucks. Jobs said the auto industry evolved from trucks to cars when needs changed. But Mac make lots of money, particularly when Apple when inherit that entire space as the low cost box assemblers go out of business and as corporate buyers switch, as they are, to the Mac. So, no, the Mac is not going away any time soon. Why would a company walk away from a huge product segment where they get 40% margins?

  7. I switched to British Siri and she understands me better even though I am straight up American with no accent. I am still skeptical about the whole open voice command thing. Alexa is a privacy nightmare and can be very embarrassing and lead to unintended consequences because they do not have the “walls” put up by Siri, but when Siri keeps saying “I cannot do that in this app” year after year, that’s just lame – figure it out!

  8. I did not buy HomePod (although I would love one) for the simple fact that it utilizes Siri. Siri underperforms on my phone and is virtually useless, so what use would it be around the house? Fix Siri and I will snap up a HomePod. In the meantime, I’m not interested.

  9. I’m not upset because Siri isn’t the best of voice assistants. I’m basically disappointed because Siri has to be labeled the worst of all voice assistants. There’s something very wrong when a company with almost unlimited resources can’t do better than being the lowest on the totem pole. Apple should be killing Amazon and Alexa. Instead, Siri has become Alexa’s biyatch. I rarely, if ever, used Alexa on my Fire TV2 and in general I don’t have any interest in voice assistants. It’s just that it seems the rest of the world does and Apple needs to hold up its end as a major tech player.

    I think Apple could have put Siri on every Apple device for so many years but chose not to do so. Apple could have gotten so much feedback and maybe even built up some database of knowledge. But, no. Now I have to listen to everyone saying how stupid Siri is compared to every other smart voice assistant there is. It’s downright embarrassing for such a wealthy company. OK, it’s not the end. Apple may turn Siri into some great intelligent being if we’re lucky. However, if it’s taken almost seven years and Siri hasn’t improved as much as rival assistants, then Apple must not really care all that much about improving Siri. If Apple’s mountain of cash can’t improve Siri, then all hope is lost.

    With all the devices Apple sells, one would think Apple has the most to gain from having a very smart assistant on every single one of those devices.

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