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Report details Siri's struggles, including integration with HomePod

Today, technology publication The Information (opens in new tab) published a highly detailed report on the development of Apple's virtual assistant, Siri. The article chronicles the growth of Siri from its genesis to Apple's acquisition to the HomePod-encumbering present, and offers some insight into why it isn't living up to its grand expectations.

It seems that the rush to release Siri with the launch of the iPhone 4s was the beginning of the company's problems with the service. According to the report, the technology just wasn't ready — especially for the popularity it was met with. This caused lots of unreliability issues, which in turn caused lots of discord among the individuals that made up the Siri team. They couldn't decide whether to "continue patching up a flawed build or to rip it up and start from scratch":

Siri's various teams morphed into an unwieldy apparatus that engaged in petty turf battles and heated arguments over what an ideal version of Siri should be—a quick and accurate information fetcher or a conversant and intuitive assistant capable of complex tasks.

It didn't help that the team never quite had any semblance of stable leadership. In the beginning, it was overseen by then iOS chief Scott Forstall, who was initially very involved in Siri's development. Testimonials from former Apple employees claim that "he had a strong vision for what the product could do and that he was extraordinarily hands-on." Unfortunately, his attention was soon divided amongst other projects — most notably Apple Maps. To ensure things were still running smoothly, Forstall enlisted Richard Williamson (who was also working on Maps) to head off the Siri team. Williamson ended up being a bit of a controversial figure, according to the report:

Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a plan to improve Siri's capabilities only once a year. That was the approach Apple typically employed with iOS, and Williamson's background was in making software run on phones that received updates from backend servers. Team members said they argued in vain that that model was wrong for Siri, which they believed needed to be an online service that continuously improved, not updated annually.

The report goes on to describe further tumultuous feuds amongst future leaders of the Siri project and the Siri team itself, regarding attributes like speech recognition and natural language processing.

Perhaps most interestingly, however, is that though development of an Apple speaker began all the way back in 2012, the Siri team wasn't made aware of HomePod until 2015 — that's after Amazon debuted its Echo speaker, which featured Alexa.

In a sign of how unprepared Apple was to deal with a rivalry, two Siri team members told The Information that their team didn't even learn about Apple's HomePod project until 2015—after Amazon unveiled the Echo in late 2014. One of Apple's original plans was to launch its speaker without Siri included, according to a source.

The report asserts that this is what resulted in the so-called "underperformance" of HomePod, noting how "review after review trashed the Siri functionality with words like 'dopey,''annoying,' and 'embarrassingly inadequate.'

For the whole scoop on Siri's development struggles, you can check out The Information's full article here (opens in new tab). If you'd like to like to hear more about ways to make Siri better, our Rene Ritchie tackles some of the virtual assistant's problems in this Vector video:

Thoughts? Questions?

How do you feel about the information released in The Information's report? What improvements do you feel would make Siri a more successful, well-rounded assistant? Share in the comments below!

Tory Foulk is a writer at Mobile Nations. She lives at the intersection of technology and sorcery and enjoys radio, bees, and houses in small towns. When she isn't working on articles, you'll likely find her listening to her favorite podcasts in a carefully curated blanket nest. You can follow her on Twitter at @tsfoulk.

17 Comments
  • At first, Siri was so awful it was comical. I got to the point where I only ever used it for entertainment purposes, never as something I could rely on. Then something magical happened, Siri became really reliable and very handy. I now use Siri to control most of the lights in my home (via HomePod), and I use it all the time on my phone while driving, on my watch while at practice (I coach lacrosse, which means I have thick gloves over my hands and wrists, so I use voice controls to set penalty timers, etc.). This report sounds spot on, if it were 2014. Now it just sounds like someone trying to create a controversy where there is none.
  • It's a slow news day, Siri is great now, I use it daily
  • Hardly. Siri is still plagued with errors and is vastly inferior to Alexa/Assistant. For example, I ask Siri to play my Motley Crue playlist and she gives me a link to the wikipedia article on Motley. I tell Alexa to play the same playlist and a second later I'm hearing Girls, Girls, Girls. Siri has a LONG way to go to being a competitive voice assistant.
  • My current HomePod experience is similar to yours.
    Siri has worked almost flawlessly on my iPhones and iPads for a long time.
    No real complaints. Enter HomePod, and for some weird reason Siri has become the dumbest virtual assistant I could ever imagine! Almost retarded.. Doesn’t listen for “hey Siri” most of the time.
    I need to repeat my request several times, or shout at her..and even then she rarely gets my requests correct
    I’ve had to resort to manually playing my music selection from my iPhone/iPad. I have used and loved using Siri for a few years now.
    But on my HomePod Siri sucks badly!
    It’s laughable just how bad.. How could Siri take such a MASSIVE step backwards on a device that relies 100% on voice/Siri input?
    AND the HomePod has 6 microphones that listen 100% of the time! WTF? Me thinks sackings on the HomePod/Siri team are completely justified! Siri on HomePod is broken beyond belief!!
  • Alexa/Assistant are also plagued with errors, this is the current state of voice recognition/voice assistants. Siri works great for some, not great for others, and the same logic applies to all the rest of the assistants too
  • Siri has been proven to be the least capable of all the assistants more than once. Alexa/Assitant always best Siri in documented case studies. Not sure where you're getting the basis for what you're saying, but facts seem to say otherwise.
  • The basis is the users of Siri, testing it in real-world usage. I've seen people from the UK say it works great, some areas of the US it didn't. I've found Google Now works badly for me, but Siri works better, however for others Google Now works better. Also, are we saying "least capable" in terms of number of features, or in terms of accuracy? I'm more talking about accuracy. However the least capable in both of these would be Bixby (formerly S Voice)
  • I'm saying that case studies like the link below conflict with what you're saying is "real world". https://www.stonetemple.com/digital-personal-assistants-test
  • Real world usage will always be different from a study. Siri is more likely to ask a common question correctly, than from a list of very unique questions. That being said, it's good to see that other assistants are generally managing this better, but Siri is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. I and many others use Siri on a daily basis without any major issues. It's also worth noting that Bixby isn't on the list, despite the fact of how popular Samsung devices are. Is this because a far worse assistant than Siri exists, and they don't want to mention it? 🤔
  • Sounds like you haven't used the competition. People who do use both complain because they know how bad it is. You are like the person who never saw an hd tv and keep saying my picture tube tv is fine.
  • I've used Google Now/Assistant, it didn't work as well for me as Siri, but that's just my personal usage. I was asking questions and I just ended up getting search results, whereas Siri gave me an answer, even if it wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it's better than just getting search results…
  • See I am basing it off real world use. Basically all the people in tech I trust who use both Android and iOS regularly, so much so that they carry both phones (newest iphone and newest Android phone like the pixel 2xl) and they all say the siri is bad. I was going to say trash as some of them say but lets go one step less and just say bad compared to the rest. Most of them will tell you that once they use Alexa or Google assistant for a while as a replacement after about a week it's clear night and day difference. List below of people from top of head. 1. Leo from twit.tv.
    2. MKBHD Youtube reviewer.
    3. Rene from imore. He is much more forgiving but will say the rest are better.
    4. Serenity Caldwell from imore.com. She says it's the single most important thing for Apple to fix. It's behind the rest.
    The imore stuff is from their podcast. Been watching the new youtube imore shows.
    5. Mikah Sargent on imore. He does all the smart stuff for imore. He says it's not as good. There are many more but I just think they said the same and don't want to say they said something I'm not 100% on.
  • It may be behind in general knowledge or accuracy of answers, but it's still a very good assistant. The proof is in the pudding, there are plenty of Siri users who love it, otherwise Apple would just abandon the service, and I find Siri very useful too on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it is behind the others, but just because something is worse doesn't mean it's bad :)
  • I'm not only talking about knowledge but reliability. So with Google or Alexa if you ask the questions exactly over and over again it works almost every time. Even Rene will tell you that if you do that with siri it's not that way. Off and on he'll ask the same thing today as yesterday and today it didn't work. It happens so much that it is very noticeable vs Google and Alexa. That is the worst part of it. Again unless you don't use Alexa or Google Assistant for a few weeks you don't notice or "feel" the difference and it really drives home after continued use of the competition.
  • If you're willing to accept Siri's plethora of shortcomings for a handful of benefits, it works great! Lol
  • The word "hyperbole" comes to mind. It's hardly a "plethora"…
  • I most rely on Siri and Google Assistant in my car. I predominantly use Android Auto because of Apple's anticompetitive policies that don't allow Waze on Carplay. However when I do connect my work iPhone to my car's head unit Siri is severely lacking in its understanding of my requests and abilities to process them when it does understand compared to Google to the point that the former is more of a distraction than a help.