Company / division: Siri
This is a minor thing, but nevertheless an important one in several ways. Apple has updated the executive bios on its website to reflect a few changes, notably the change in responsibility for Siri from Eddy Cue (generally responsible for online services) to Craig Federighi (responsible for software), and Eddy Cue’s ownership of Apple’s original video content push. That’s notable for two reasons: one is that Eddy Cue has lost other areas of responsibility recently, notably the App Store to Phil Schiller, and Siri is an area where Apple can ill afford to be seen to be falling behind the competition. Taking it away from Cue is likely a sign that Apple wants to see the same rapid improvements there as it did in the App Store when Schiller took over, but also a recognition that the content push is going to take more of Cue’s attention going forward.
Also worth noting: though there’s still only one woman among Apple’s top-tier leadership of SVPs and CXOs as shown on its executive leadership page, the next tier of VPs is now half women, with three of the four women of color. Diversity in the top ranks at Apple has been poor and slow to change, in part because the senior leadership team has been so stable for so long, but it’s clear that Tim Cook is using the more frequent changes happening at the next tier down to increase diversity there.
via Mac Rumors
Apple Launches Siri Ad Campaign Featuring Dwayne Johnson (Jul 24, 2017)
Yesterday, actor Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock) tweeted a tongue-in-cheek teaser for an ad campaign with Apple centered on Siri, with a three-minute ad posted to YouTube later. The ad campaign is only one of the things to talk about here, though, because the reaction to the teaser is worth discussing too. The campaign itself comes at an interesting time for Siri, given the massive media attention paid recently to the much smaller but arguably hotter home voice speaker market and the dominant assistant in that space, Amazon’s Alexa. Note that the Siri campaign is all about Johnson going around getting stuff done, and that of course is the major weakness of Alexa today: it’s basically useless away from home. There’s no direct jab here from Apple, but it’s clearly one of the underlying messages that Siri is with you throughout your day no matter where you are (albeit not, as the ad suggests, in space). But the other thing worth noting is how many people reacted to the teaser by taking it literally, or in other words believing that Apple was actually making a full-on movie featuring Siri and Johnson. That’s so absurd as to be laughable, but I’m pretty sure it’s the context of Apple’s recent push into original content and the negative response in much of the media to its Planet of the Apps show that makes it suddenly seem plausible. Once Apple starts spending serious money on content, and demonstrates that it’s willing to make shows featuring its own products and services prominently, almost anything seems possible. At this point, releasing Planet of the Apps first feels like it was a big mistake in launching Apple’s original content strategy – it’s set the tone for what’s to come, and though future offerings will hopefully be more compelling to a wider range of Apple customers, the reaction to this Siri campaign is a great encapsulation of the expectations Apple has now set. It’s got work to do.
Siri Usage Reported to Fall as Alexa and Cortana Grow (Jul 12, 2017)
★ Apple Announces HomePod Home Audio System with Siri (Jun 5, 2017)
★ Apple Starts Manufacturing Its Siri Speaker (May 31, 2017)
★ Apple Siri Speaker Could Debut at WWDC in June (May 1, 2017)
KGI, which as I’ve noted before has a decent track record on future Apple products, says there’s a 50/50 chance that Apple’s entry in the connected home speaker market could debut at WWDC next month. There’s scant detail in the report other than that Apple’s speaker will have better audio hardware than the Echo, which has been criticized as being sub-par as a speaker despite its effectiveness as a voice-activated assistant device. I would certainly expect such a device to combine Siri, AirPlay, HomeKit device control, and possibly some kind of WiFi connectivity, but it’s very unlikely Apple could do all that well and still make its usual margin at the $130-180 price point that the full Echo and Home devices sell for. It’s more likely this would be sold in the range of the larger Sonos speakers (which Apple has been selling in its stores for the last little while), which would mean $300-500. That puts it in a different category from what’s out there today, which wouldn’t be unusual for Apple but would put it well out of impulse buy territory for most people and limit sales quite a bit. One big question is whether Siri is yet good enough for such a speaker, and what upgrades Apple might have in store for Siri at WWDC this year to help it get there. As I’ve suggested in the past, Siri’s shortcomings are at least in part hardware-based: more often than not, the problem is wrongly interpreting what’s said because of the tiny mics being used for voice recognition, and a big device should help a great deal with that. But Siri can also be frustrating even when it does understand what you say, and its more conversational elements are still pretty limited, which could be a big shortcoming on a device without an alternative input mechanism. I’m sure Apple will have some other special sauce in mind so this isn’t just another Echo or Home but something a bit different. But there’s a good chance this ends up being yet another new product category for Apple which sells a few million a year and which critics therefore contend is a flop, while it quietly generates a decent amount of revenue and profit for Apple (see also the Apple Watch and AirPods).
Apple’s Siri learns Shanghainese as voice assistants race to cover languages – Reuters (Mar 9, 2017)
One of the things that’s often missed by US writers covering Amazon’s Alexa and its competitors is how limited it still is in language and geographic terms. It only speaks English and German and the Echo range is only available in a handful of countries. Siri, meanwhile, just got its 21st country and 36th language, which reflects a long-time strength of Apple’s: broad global support. Apple News is a notable exception, which is only available in a few countries and one language, but almost all of Apple’s other products are available in a very long list of countries and territories, often longer than for other competing services. The article here is also interesting for the insights it provides into how each company goes about the process of localization, which is quite a bit more involved than you might surmise.
Is Amazon late to the mobile voice assistant game? – iMore (Jan 11, 2017)
This is satire and opinion, but it’s very relevant to two prevailing narratives – that Apple is behind in AI and that Amazon is ahead in voice. Rene’s piece here does a good job of framing the discussion, and the two essays on this site which I just linked to take a similar stance: Amazon is very good at what it does with Echo, but it does a very limited number of things, and for today still does them mostly in the home. Siri has two orders of magnitude more users, but also gives users a variety of other ways to interact with their device. Any analysis that doesn’t take into account those factors when comparing the two is insufficient.