Apple is the new Blackberry is the latest twist on "Apple is DOOMED". Apple may be missing out on Artificial Intelligence and/or Machine Learning. With the hype of products such as Amazon's Echo, a.k.a Alexa, Facebooks "bots", and Google's new Assistant, clearly, there's a huge sea change that's happening, and Apple is going to be left out. Apple will still be selling beautiful sheets of glass, driven by apps, while the rest of industry moves up to the brains. Much like Blackberry refused to evolve against the threat of the iPhone. Makes sense. Except it doesn't.
State of the assistants
Alexa, OK Google, Siri, and Cortana—none of them come close to being an AI from my perspective. If these were truly personal assistants, I'd fire all of them.
For the most part, they handle some rudimentary tasks pretty well. Call this person, play that song, give me the weather forecast. Get much beyond those tasks and they all tend to choke. Sure, it's cool that the Echo can tie into the Luetron lighting in my house. It's cool that I can say "Alexa, turn the right side on", and the lights magically appear. Ask, "turn on the right side", and Alexa has no idea what I'm talking about.
Ok Google, Siri, and the like all use somewhat different syntax and all suffer from their own gaps in understanding. A "bot" that lets me order a pizza through 47 interactions is hardly superior to an app I can tap my way through. Or, you know, just calling and ordering. It's certainly not ground breaking assistive technology,
Second, let's not forget it's Apple that pioneered this technology and brought it mainstream. Siri was a brilliant acquisition by Apple, and Siri works as well as, if not better than, anything else on the market.
If there's one area where Siri could improve it would be third party support. Google has promised to allow third parties to tie into it's AI, and Amazon already offers third party connections (albeit through somewhat awkward interactions). And they're all still somewhat limited.
Ask Alexa to play a song it best be in Prime or in your library. Google is happy to play anything from Google Music and, of course Siri speaks best to your iOS library or Apple Music. These are glitches that will almost certainly be fixed—Echo already supports Spotify for example—but they're not all fixed now.
What comes next
There are rumors that Apple will release a Siri API this year. Of course, there have been similar rumors every year since Siri itself was released. Whether or not Apple does open up Siri won't have anything to do with philosophy. This is the company, after all, that put iTunes on Windows. Apple will gladly forgo exclusivity when it opens significant new markets.
The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey set the standard for AI, and arguably the natural language interface. Nothing has come close to that, and perhaps that's not a bad thing.
I don't think I personally would like an AI that responds to me in a perfect conversational tone but tries to lock me out of my house, and then tries to kill me. I have little doubt that Apple can and will compete in the age of AI, bots and all.
But I'm also confident that any technology Apple brings to market will adhere to Tim Cook's leadership, and his view that Apple technology is created to make the world a better place.
I hope other vendors are thinking the same way.
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I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.