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
93 months ago
I don't care. Privacy > everything.
Score: 69 Votes (Like | Disagree)
slimothy Avatar
93 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
93 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)
AustinIllini Avatar
93 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
93 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
93 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

iPhone 16 Pro Sizes Feature

iPhone 16 Series Is Just Two Months Away: Everything We Know

Monday July 15, 2024 4:44 am PDT by
Apple typically releases its new iPhone series around mid-September, which means we are about two months out from the launch of the iPhone 16. Like the iPhone 15 series, this year's lineup is expected to stick with four models – iPhone 16, iPhone 16 Plus, iPhone 16 Pro, and iPhone 16 Pro Max – although there are plenty of design differences and new features to take into account. To bring ...
iPhone SE 4 Vertical Camera Feature

iPhone SE 4 Rumored to Use Same Rear Chassis as iPhone 16

Friday July 19, 2024 7:16 am PDT by
Apple will adopt the same rear chassis manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 that it is using for the upcoming standard iPhone 16, claims a new rumor coming out of China. According to the Weibo-based leaker "Fixed Focus Digital," the backplate manufacturing process for the iPhone SE 4 is "exactly the same" as the standard model in Apple's upcoming iPhone 16 lineup, which is expected to...
New MacBook Pros Launching Tomorrow With These 4 New Features 2

M5 MacBook Models to Use New Compact Camera Module in 2025

Wednesday July 17, 2024 2:58 am PDT by
Apple in 2025 will take on a new compact camera module (CCM) supplier for future MacBook models powered by its next-generation M5 chip, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Writing in his latest investor note on unny-opticals-2025-business-momentum-to-benefit-509819818c2a">Medium, Kuo said Apple will turn to Sunny Optical for the CCM in its M5 MacBooks. The Chinese optical lens company...
tinypod apple watch

TinyPod Turns Your Apple Watch Into an iPod

Wednesday July 17, 2024 3:18 pm PDT by
If you have an old Apple Watch and you're not sure what to do with it, a new product called TinyPod might be the answer. Priced at $79, the TinyPod is a silicone case with a built-in scroll wheel that houses the Apple Watch chassis. When an Apple Watch is placed inside the TinyPod, the click wheel on the case is able to be used to scroll through the Apple Watch interface. The feature works...
iphone 14 lineup

Cellebrite Unable to Unlock iPhones on iOS 17.4 or Later, Leak Reveals

Thursday July 18, 2024 4:18 am PDT by
Israel-based mobile forensics company Cellebrite is unable to unlock iPhones running iOS 17.4 or later, according to leaked documents verified by 404 Media. The documents provide a rare glimpse into the capabilities of the company's mobile forensics tools and highlight the ongoing security improvements in Apple's latest devices. The leaked "Cellebrite iOS Support Matrix" obtained by 404 Media...
Apple Watch Series 9

2024 Apple Watch Lineup: Key Changes We're Expecting

Tuesday July 16, 2024 7:59 am PDT by
Apple is seemingly planning a rework of the Apple Watch lineup for 2024, according to a range of reports from over the past year. Here's everything we know so far. Apple is expected to continue to offer three different Apple Watch models in five casing sizes, but the various display sizes will allegedly grow by up to 12% and the casings will get taller. Based on all of the latest rumors,...