Former Apple Employees Reflect on Siri's 'Squandered Lead' Over Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant

The Information has published an in-depth look at how Siri has transitioned from one of Apple's most promising technologies into a "major problem" for the company. The article includes interviews with a dozen former Apple employees who worked on the various teams responsible for the virtual assistant.

siri 4s
The report claims that many of the employees acknowledged for the first time that Apple rushed Siri to be included in the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully ready, resulting in several internal debates over whether to continue patching up the half-baked product or 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.

The team working on Siri was overseen by Apple's then iOS chief Scott Forstall, but his attention was reportedly divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of Apple Maps. As a result, Forstall enlisted Richard Williamson, who was also managing the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri team.

According to the report, several former employees said Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the Siri team disagreed with, including a plan to improve the assistant's capabilities only once a year.

Williamson, in an emailed response to the report, wrote that it's "completely untrue" that he decided Siri shouldn't be improved continuously.

He said decisions concerning "technical leadership of the software and server infrastructure" were made by employees below his level, while he was responsible for getting the team on track.

"After launch, Siri was a disaster," Mr. Williamson wrote. "It was slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team, certainly not me."

Forstall and Williamson were both fired by Apple in 2012 following the botched launch of Apple Maps on iOS 6. The former employees interviewed said they lamented losing Forstall, who "believed in what they were doing."

Another interesting tidbit is that the Siri team apparently didn't even learn about the HomePod until 2015. Last year, Bloomberg News reported that Apple had developed several speaker prototypes dating back to 2012, but the Siri team presumably didn't know due to Apple's culture of secrecy.

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 says that Siri is the main reason the HomePod has "underperformed," and said Siri's capabilities "remain limited compared to the competition," including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The most notable failure in Siri's evolution is that it still lacks the third-party developer ecosystem considered the key element of the original Siri vision. Apple finally launched SiriKit in 2016 after years of setting aside the project and shifting resources away to other areas. […]

But SiriKit has yet to fulfill its promise. So far it includes just 10 activities—Apple calls them "intent domains"—such as payments, booking rides, setting up to-do lists and looking at photos. Several senior engineers who worked on SiriKit have left Apple or moved off the project.

Some former employees interviewed noted that "while Apple has tried to remake itself as a services company, its core is still product design."

Apple responded to today's report with a statement noting Siri is "the world's most popular voice assistant" and touted "significant advances" to the assistant's performance, scalability, and reliability.

"We have made significant advances in Siri performance, scalability and reliability and have applied the latest machine learning techniques to create a more natural voice and more proactive features," Apple wrote in its statement. "We continue to invest deeply in machine learning and artificial intelligence to continually improve the quality of answers Siri provides and the breadth of questions Siri can respond to."

The full-length article is a worthwhile read for those interested in learning more about Siri's internal struggles and shortcomings.

The Information: The Seven-Year Itch: How Apple's Marriage to Siri Turned Sour

Top Rated Comments

HumpYourWayUp Avatar
78 months ago
Best Line in the article:

"Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team, certainly not me"

LOL thats the attitude for effective teamwork!
Score: 106 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Regime2008 Avatar
78 months ago
Significant advances? Siri seems about the same since its launch...
Score: 82 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jjhny Avatar
78 months ago
Tim would rather virtue signal. Or sing carpool karaoke than do the visionary thing.

His background is making a supply chain work. Not very helpful for envisioning the future.
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Brookzy Avatar
78 months ago
...resulting in several internal debates over whether to continue patching up the half-baked product or start from scratch.
I can't help but think that starting from scratch might still be the best option...
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tkukoc Avatar
78 months ago
Significant advances? Siri seems about the same since its launch...
Well they changed her from a wavy bar to a bunch of floating colors in a circle..that took.. Courage! o_O
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
andromedaan Avatar
78 months ago
Anyone who has ever used Google Assistant knows how crappy and inferior Siri is. It's a SHAME!
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

General Apps Messages

Apple Announces 'Groundbreaking' New Security Protocol for iMessage

Wednesday February 21, 2024 6:00 am PST by
Apple today announced a new post-quantum cryptographic protocol for iMessage called PQ3. Apple says this "groundbreaking" and "state-of-the-art" protocol provides "extensive defenses against even highly sophisticated quantum attacks." Apple believes the PQ3 protocol's protections "surpass those in all other widely deployed messaging apps," according to its blog post:Today we are announcing...
iOS 17

iOS 17.4 Will Add These New Features to Your iPhone

Monday February 19, 2024 6:52 am PST by
Apple last month confirmed that iOS 17.4 will be released in March, and the update includes several new features and changes for the iPhone. Key new features in iOS 17.4 include major App Store changes in the EU and Apple Podcasts transcripts. The update also adds new emoji and includes preparations for the launch of next-generation CarPlay later this year. More details about the new...
Beyond iPhone 13 Better Blue Face ID Single Camera Hole

Six Reasons to Wait for Next Year's iPhone 17

Thursday February 22, 2024 4:20 am PST by
Apple's iPhone development roadmap runs several years into the future and the company is continually working with suppliers on several successive iPhone models concurrently, which is why we sometimes get rumored feature leaks so far ahead of launch. The iPhone 17 series is no different, and already we have some idea of what to expect from Apple's 2025 smartphone lineup. If you plan to skip...
samsung galaxy ring

'Apple Ring' Allegedly in Development to Rival Samsung Galaxy Ring

Tuesday February 20, 2024 2:27 am PST by
Apple is speeding up development of a smart ring that can be worn on the finger to track users' health biometrics, claims a new report coming out of Korea. Teaser image of Samsung Galaxy Ring shown at Galaxy Unpacked in January Apple has toyed with the idea of a ring wearable for several years, as indicated by several patents, but with Samsung preparing to bring its own product to market, the ...
volvo s60 drivers apple maps

iOS 17.4 Beta Adds CarPlay Option to Show Upcoming Maneuvers in Instrument Cluster

Tuesday February 20, 2024 10:47 am PST by
The fourth beta of iOS 17.4 that Apple released today adds a new CarPlay feature, according to the notes that Apple provided to developers. In supported CarPlay vehicles, there's now an Apple Maps option to show information about upcoming maneuvers in the instrument cluster. CarPlay users will be able to swap the display type between the main and instrument cluster by tapping on the map...
Oled iPads and MackBook Pro Notch

Apple's OLED Roadmap: New iPad Mini, Foldable iPad Pro, and More

Wednesday February 21, 2024 5:29 am PST by
Apple is planning to launch at least nine new devices with OLED displays across the iPad and MacBook product lines, according to an updated forecast from research firm Omdia that sets out the company's plans in detail. As widely rumored, Apple's push to transition to OLED will apparently be jump-started by the release of new 11- and 13-inch iPad Pro models this year. The displays will...
iPad Pro OLED Feature 2

Apple's Upcoming OLED iPad Pro Models Rumored to Be Much Thinner

Tuesday February 20, 2024 1:39 pm PST by
Apple is planning to update the iPad Air and iPad Pro lineups as soon as March, and the new iPad Pro models will be significantly thinner according to dimensions shared by 9to5Mac. Citing sources with knowledge of Apple's plans, the site claims that the larger version will be more than 1mm thinner. The current 12.9-inch iPad Pro measures in at 6.4mm thick, but the new model is said to be 5mm ...
Next Generation CarPlay Porsche 1

Apple Launching Next-Generation CarPlay This Year With These New Features

Wednesday February 21, 2024 2:03 pm PST by
Apple recently updated its website to confirm that the first vehicle models with next-generation CarPlay support will debut "in 2024." This wording is shown on Apple's regional websites for the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries. The iOS 17.4 beta includes code-level references to eight new CarPlay apps:Auto Settings: This app will let you manage paired iPhones...