I use Siri, Apple's virtual assistant, all day, every day. Most of the time it's an incredibly enabling technology that lets me both do my job and manage my home more easily and naturally than I'd have previously though possible. But, when it crashes, it crashes hard.
Walt Mossberg, writing for The Verge:
John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:
Sequential inference — that contextual awareness and chaining of commands — is something Siri's done since launch. It's what made Siri so special, even back in 2011.
Me: What's the capitol of Germany?
Siri: The population of Berlin is about 3,610,000
Me: Turn my hallway light on.
Siri: Okay, your light is on.
Me: Make it purple.
Siri: Purple, it is!
The problem isn't that Siri doesn't do sequential inference — again, it's done it since launch — it's that there's no way for you to know which domains or queries will use it when you try.
Siri is a server-side service, and query handling is something that can be tweaked at any time, so I'm guessing any reports of poor behavior are fixable. What's frustrating is that it seems many of those sequential inferences haven't already been mapped out and account for.
That leads to inconsistency, which for customers is as bad or worse than it not existing at all.
Echo is a room device that's always connected to power and has seven beam-forming microphones. That's great, but a totally different product from iPhone, which is an always with you but mostly on battery, and with only a few phone mics.
Alexa on Echo is more reliable than Siri on iPhone when you're in the same room. When you're across town or across the globe, Siri on iPhone is infinitely more reliable than Alexa on Echo back home. Because it's back home.
I can't comment on whether or not Echo/Alexa "led the way" on home automation controls because Echo/Alexa still doesn't exist where I live, nor in the vast majority of the world. Siri, while not everywhere, is far more global and multilingual. Again, different products with different priorities.
But they're also solving for different problems. Apple is focusing on a personal assistant. Siri has a name and a Pixar-like personality, and for all sorts of personal tasks, it does sequential inference just fine. Google is focusing on a Star Trek computer. That's why Google Now and Google Assistant don't have any more of a name or personality than Star Trek's "Computer".
Apple doesn't have to match Google Now or Google Assistant feature for feature — and privacy means they won't be digging through your email or web history to do so any time soon — but Apple does have to make sure Siri can handle the kind of tasks most of Apple's customers will ask most of the time. And do it in a way that's not just delightful but reliable and consistent.
(That, and handle the much bigger part of AI that gets much less attention: The behind the scenes stuff that'll eventually make everything from code more reliable to interface preemptively faster...)
When it comes to the front facing stuff, I'm just a dumb writer, which is about as far from a product manager as you can get. That said, it seems like a lot of what Mossberg complains about, and Gruber notes, could be headed off by having someone with a Steve Jobs or Craig Federighi-like drill-down-to-the-smallest-detail approach empowered inside Apple, hammering on Siri, all day, every day, and making sure it never gets caught off its virtual guard.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.