During today’s iPhone 12 launch event, Apple proudly noted that its voice command service, Siri, was now running on a billion devices and had 25 billion interactions. “That’s less than one request a day. Does that mean most people don’t use Siri often, or at all?” noted Scott Austin of Dow Jones. I am not sure if these 25 billion interactions include accidental triggers, but if they are, then Siri is in even more sorry state than I had thought.
I have done my best to use Siri for simple tasks such as adding appointments, to-dos, playing music, and increasing and decreasing volume. And whenever I do, my experience has been very hit or miss. It often involves repeating myself. And I am a longtime denizen of the Apple ecosystem.
Whenever I use Google Assistant, it is accurate with its answers, and more importantly, it understands my accent. Many friends with children tell me how much their kids like talking and interacting with Amazon’s Alexa. When I hear that, I realize Apple’s biggest challenge: Tomorrow’s technology buyers are growing up with a different interface.
There is no denying that Amazon and Google are likely to play footsie with consumer data and privacy. But you also can’t refute the fact that Apple’s talk of on-device machine learning and intelligence is failing to translate into better experiences. Compared to its rivals, Siri seems to still be in middle school. I fear that Apple might blow it on voice-based user interfaces and interactions.
I actually use Siri most often on my Apple Watch 6, where it has become a trigger for playing music and interacting with apps. This points to a direction that makes a smarter Siri a necessity for Apple. Smart assistants like Alexa and Siri are good at abstracting applications and shifting the end user’s focus to how they are using those services. Just look at how much Apple’s Home app is abstracting apps from various connected devices when you use Siri. The brands of products become highly fungible.
When you say, “Siri, play Mary Lattimore,” it doesn’t stream from Spotify or Bandcamp. Instead, it gets you to Apple Music. When you use Siri to pay for something, it will not use Square Cash or PayPal as a default. Instead, it will go to Apple Pay. Of course, Amazon and Google will do the same in a way that serves their own interests. Their current advantage is that they will probably get it right more often.