iOS 9 SiriFormer Apple employees who worked on Siri believe the virtual assistant is struggling to catch up with its rivals because of a lack of ambitious goals stemming from the company's overarching concern with user privacy, a report by The Wall Street Journal revealed on Thursday.

Unlike Amazon and Google, which leverage and retain user data off-device to inform and enhance queries put to their respective smart speakers, Apple is said to work within a culture that prioritizes user privacy, "making it difficult to personalize and improve" Siri, according to ex-Apple employees. The project has also reportedly suffered from the departures of key members as a result, some of whom went to competitors.

About a year after [Steve] Jobs’s death, Apple hired Bill Stasior, an Amazon search executive, to oversee Siri. Mr. Stasior studied artificial intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but his expertise was in search rather than speech or language. This led some members of the Siri team to believe he didn't fully appreciate the product's original vision: to expand beyond the iPhone to third-party apps.

Former staff reportedly offered this loss as the main reason behind the departure of Siri co-founders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, who left to found Viv, which was acquired by Samsung and is now working closely with Samsung's Bixby assistant team. Apple finally started opening up Siri to third-party developers last year, but many former Siri engineers believe it didn't come soon enough, while developers still remain unhappy at the lack of openness behind the scenes.

The limited scope of Siri's commands disappointed many developers, said Brian Roemmele, a developer who attended the announcement. "People went from being happy and excited to sitting in workshops and realizing, 'I can’t use it,'" he said. "Some went back to that attitude: Siri's always going to be dumb."

According to the article, the first inkling Apple got that it was falling behind its rivals came when members of the Siri team arrived at an Amazon event in 2014.

Apple's three-year-old product had gained popularity for its ability to handle calendar appointments, text messaging and a few other simple tasks based on voice commands. Siri had no real competitors.

The outlook quickly changed as the team watched Amazon's video showing off a small, voice-controlled speaker that could play music, order products and search the web. It demonstrated Amazon had figured out how to isolate voices from background noise and have a digital assistant respond to requests from a distance — abilities Siri hadn't yet mastered.

'People at Apple's anxiety level went up a notch,' said a former member of Apple's Siri team who was there that night.

WSJ notes that Siri's performance still doesn't match Amazon's Echo or Google Home because of the collective weight of Apple's self-imposed limitations. For example, in tests across 5,000 different questions, Siri answered accurately 62 percent of the time, lagging the roughly 90 percent accuracy rate of Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, according to Stone Temple, a digital marketing firm.

It remains to be seen whether Apple feels it needs to compete on these specific AI metrics, or if it sees a future for Siri in other areas, such as linguistics – Siri works across 21 language, while Alexa and Google Assistant only speak English and German.

During this week's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced a number of forthcoming enhancements to Siri with iOS 11, including live language translation, contextual query comprehension, and an ability to learn a user's interests. It also unveiled its own Siri-powered premium smart speaker, HomePod, but emphasized sound quality and music enjoyment over the general intelligence of its virtual assistant, which some might say speaks volumes as to Apple's future ambitions in the AI space.

Top Rated Comments

slimothy Avatar
76 months ago
I don't care. Privacy > everything.
Score: 69 Votes (Like | Disagree)
slimothy Avatar
76 months ago
In the age where you air out your laundry on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, you are clearly in the minority.

Privacy is great but if AI is the direction everyone is going (it is), Apple HAS to keep up.
YOU might post a bunch of crap on FB, IG, and SC. I don't post anything on any except SC. And only things that I wouldn't mind the world seeing. Oh, and of course locations services OFF. Maybe I'm the minority, but at least I'm not that idiot posting that he's going on vacation on FB and getting his empty home burglarized.

I think Apple needs to catch up, but keeping privacy at the forefront of their innovation is key. That's why a lot of people choose Apple products over the inferior Android products aka tracking devices.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
KidAKidB Avatar
76 months ago
I'm probably in the minority here, but I don't mind giving up my metadata for a better experience.
Minority around here maybe, but the average user out there really doesn't care about privacy half as much as people around here like to believe. If they really did care, Facebook and company wouldn't be so popular.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dragonmount Avatar
76 months ago
I don't care. Privacy > everything.
In the age where you air out your laundry on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, you are clearly in the minority.

Privacy is great but if AI is the direction everyone is going (it is), Apple HAS to keep up.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Kaibelf Avatar
76 months ago
I'm sorry that developers can't find ways to sell my activity to advertisers. Honestly, I am...:rolleyes:

I'm also sorry that if I use Siri I don't get "suggestions" from "trusted partners" for movies I might like based on something I read on rotten tomatoes. I'm sure these vultures are struggling now that they can't peep through my windows.

As for suggestions that Apple hasn't found the right balance of accessibility vs. privacy, that's ludicrous. Being "kind of private" is like being "kind of pregnant" or having "secure encryption" with a back door. Either you are private, or you are not.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ginkobiloba Avatar
76 months ago
If there is one thing Apple should be strongly commended and praised for, it's this. It's pretty much the only big company right now that is not trying to enhance it's technology at the expense of privacy. It's almost heroic.

Even though they might only be doing it because they are making their money on hardware and not on your personal data unlike its competitors, it's something everyone should encourage.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iOS 17 on Phone Feature

Gurman: iOS 17 to Provide Several 'Most Requested Features'

Sunday March 26, 2023 6:05 am PDT by
Apple changed the strategy for iOS 17 later in its development process to add several new features, suggesting that the update may be more significant than previously thought, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports. In January, Gurman said that iOS 17 could be a less significant update than iPhone updates in previous years due to the company's intense focus on its long-awaited mixed-reality...
dynamic island

iPhone 15 Dynamic Island to Include New Integrated Proximity Sensor

Friday March 24, 2023 12:27 am PDT by
This year, all iPhone 15 models will include Apple's Dynamic Island that unifies the pill and hole cutouts at the top of the display, but there will also be a material change to the feature that wasn't included in the iPhone 14 Pro models. According to a new tweet by Apple industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the proximity sensor on the iPhone 15 series will be integrated inside the Dynamic Island ...
top stories 25mar2023

Top Stories: iPhone 15 Pro Design Leak, iOS 16.4 Coming Soon, and More

Saturday March 25, 2023 6:00 am PDT by
We're still almost six months away from the official unveiling of the iPhone 15 lineup, but it seems like every day we're learning more about what to expect from the next-generation models. Notably, this week gave us our clearest look yet at what appear to be some changes for the volume and mute control hardware. iOS 16.4 and associated releases are also right around the corner with some new ...
Hero0009

Best Apple Deals of the Week: Samsung's Smart Monitor M8 Gets Massive $250 Discount, Along With Year's Best AirPods Prices

Friday March 24, 2023 10:23 am PDT by
We saw a lot of great deals on Apple products and related accessories this week, including Samsung's iMac-like Smart Monitor M8 for $250 off, a 30 percent off spring sale at Anker, and the year's best prices on numerous AirPods models. All of these deals are still available to purchase right now, so we're recapping them and more below. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these ...
Steve Jobs Theater dusk

Apple Reportedly Demoed Mixed-Reality Headset to Executives in the Steve Jobs Theater Last Week

Sunday March 26, 2023 5:53 am PDT by
Apple showcased its mixed-reality headset to the company's top 100 executives in the Steve Jobs Theater last week, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. In the latest edition of his "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explained that the "momentous gathering" is a "key milestone" ahead of the headset's public announcement planned for June. The event was intended to rally Apple's top members of...
apple mixed reality headset concept by david lewis and marcus kane

Some Apple Employees Seriously Concerned About Mixed-Reality Headset as Announcement Draws Closer

Sunday March 26, 2023 8:25 am PDT by
Some Apple employees are concerned about the usefulness and price point of the company's upcoming mixed-reality headset, The New York Times reports. Apple headset concept by David Lewis and Marcus Kane Initial enthusiasm around the device at the company has apparently become skepticism, according to eight current and former Apple employees speaking to The New York Times. The change of tone...
iphone 14 pro max deep purple feature purple

iPhone 15 Pro Rumor Recap: 10 New Features and Changes to Expect

Thursday March 23, 2023 6:42 am PDT by
While the iPhone 15 series is still around six months away from launching, there have already been plenty of rumors about the devices. Many new features and changes have been rumored for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max in particular. Below, we have recapped 10 changes rumored for iPhone 15 Pro models that are not expected to be available on the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus:A1...
iOS 16

iOS 16.4 Will Add These 8 New Features to Your iPhone

Sunday March 26, 2023 8:06 am PDT by
Following nearly six weeks of beta testing, iOS 16.4 is expected to be released to the public as soon as this week. The software update includes a handful of new features and changes for the iPhone 8 and newer. To install an iOS update, open the Settings app on the iPhone, tap General → Software Update, and follow the on-screen instructions. Below, we have recapped eight new features and...