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
64 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
64 months ago
Significant advances? Siri seems about the same since its launch...
Score: 82 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jjhny Avatar
64 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
64 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
64 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
64 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

iPhone trade in

Apple Adjusts Trade-In Values for iPhones, Macs, and More

Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:40 am PST by
After announcing new Mac and HomePod models last week, Apple adjusted its trade-in values for select devices in the United States. iPhone trade-in values decreased by up to $80, and most Android smartphones also went down. Mac trade-in values remained unchanged or increased by up to $40 depending on the model, while some Apple Watch models increased in value and others decreased. Trade-in...
iphone 15 pro wifi 6e

Internal Apple Document From Leaker 'Unknownz21' Confirms Wi-Fi 6E Will Be Limited to iPhone 15 Pro Models

Friday January 27, 2023 10:01 am PST by
Multiple rumors have suggested that the next-generation iPhone 15 models will adopt the Wi-Fi 6E standard that Apple has already introduced in the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, and now a leaked document appears to confirm Apple's plans. Sourced from researcher and Apple leaker Unknownz21 (@URedditor), the document features diagrams of the iPhone 15's antenna architecture. D8x refers to the...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Expected to Feature Wi-Fi 6E Like Latest Macs and iPad Pro

Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:39 pm PST by
The iPhone 15 will support Wi-Fi 6E, according to a research note shared this week by Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Tom O'Malley. The analysts did not specify whether the feature will be available on all models or limited to the Pro models. Apple has added Wi-Fi 6E support to a handful of devices so far, including the latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook...
maxresdefault

Hands-On With the New M2 Max MacBook Pro

Thursday January 26, 2023 12:14 pm PST by
New 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the latest M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are available in Apple retail stores and are already in the hands of customers, and we picked up one of the new M2 Max machines to answer all of the questions MacRumors readers considering a purchase might have. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Yesterday, we asked MacRumors fans on...
Mac Pro 2019 Apple

Mac Pro Enthusiasts Raise Concerns Over Upgrade Limitations of Apple Silicon

Thursday January 26, 2023 6:30 am PST by
The new Mac Pro coming later this year is expected to feature the same spacious modular design as the 2019 model, but with fresh concerns over its lack of upgradeability surfacing, some users are beginning to wonder what the transition away from Intel architecture actually means for Apple's most powerful Mac. The current Intel Mac Pro that Apple sells is popular with creative professionals...
iOS 16

iOS 16.3 for iPhone Launching Next Week With These 4 New Features

Friday January 20, 2023 11:43 am PST by
In a recent press release, Apple confirmed that iOS 16.3 will be released to the public next week. The software update will be available for the iPhone 8 and newer and includes a handful of new features, changes, and bug fixes. Below, we've recapped bigger features in iOS 16.3, including support for physical security keys as a two-factor authentication option for Apple ID accounts, worldwide ...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Pro Rumored to Have These 8 Features

Friday January 27, 2023 2:11 pm PST by
Apple's next-generation iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are expected to be announced in September as usual. Already, rumors suggest the devices will have at least eight exclusive features not available on the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. An overview of the eight features rumored to be exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro models:A17 chip: iPhone 15 Pro models will be equipped with an A17...