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.


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

(View all)
Avatar
29 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)
Avatar
29 months ago
Significant advances? Siri seems about the same since its launch...
Score: 82 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
29 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)
Avatar
29 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)
Avatar
29 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)
Avatar
29 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)

Top Stories

Leaker: Apple to Stick With Lightning Over USB-C for 'iPhone 12' Before Going Port-Less Next Year

Tuesday May 26, 2020 2:31 am PDT by
Apple will use a Lightning port instead of USB-C in the upcoming "iPhone 12," but it will be the last major series of Apple's flagship phones to do so, with models set to combine wireless charging and a port-less Smart Connector system for data transfer and syncing in the iPhone "13 series" next year. The above claim comes from occasional Apple leaker and Twitter user "Fudge" (@choco_bit),...

Apple Releases macOS Catalina 10.15.5 With Battery Health Management Features, Fix for Finder Freezing

Tuesday May 26, 2020 1:59 pm PDT by
Apple today released macOS Catalina 10.15.5, the fifth update to the macOS Catalina operating system that was released in October 2019. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 comes two months after the launch of macOS Catalina 10.15.4, which introduced Screen Time Communication Limits. macOS Catalina 10.15.5 is a free update that can be downloaded from the Mac App Store using the Update feature in the...

16-Inch MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iMac Pro With Mini-LED Displays Again Rumored to Launch in 2021

Tuesday May 26, 2020 5:30 am PDT by
Apple plans to release several higher-end devices with Mini-LED displays in 2021, including a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the first quarter, a new 16-inch MacBook Pro in the second quarter, and a new 27-inch iMac in the second half of the year, according to Jeff Pu, an analyst at Chinese research firm GF Securities. This timeframe lines up with one shared by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who recently...

Leaker Shares Details on 'iPhone 13' Camera

Wednesday May 27, 2020 4:27 pm PDT by
The next-generation iPhone 12 lineup coming in fall 2020 isn't out yet, but Fudge (@choco_bit), a leaker who sometimes shares information on upcoming Apple devices, today offered up details on what Apple has in store for the 2021 iPhone 13's camera setup. A simple design drawing depicts a device with a four camera array, which Fudge claims will have the following features: 64-megapixel...

Jailbreak Tool 'unc0ver' 5.0 Released With iOS 13.5 Compatibility

Sunday May 24, 2020 3:06 pm PDT by
The team behind the "unc0ver" jailbreaking tool for iOS has released version 5.0.0 of its software that claims to have the ability to jailbreak "every signed iOS version on every device" using a zero-day kernel vulnerability by Pwn20wnd, a renowned iOS hacker. The announcement comes just days after it was announced that the tool would soon launch. The unc0ver website highlights how the tool...

Apple Making It Harder to Avoid Nagging macOS Update Notifications

Thursday May 28, 2020 8:13 am PDT by
With the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.5 and related security updates for macOS Mojave and High Sierra earlier this week, Apple is making it more difficult for users to ignore available software updates and remain on their current operating system versions. Included in the release notes for macOS Catalina 10.15.5 is the following:- Major new releases of macOS are no longer hidden when...

HBO Max Now Available on Apple TV and iOS Devices

Wednesday May 27, 2020 2:42 am PDT by
HBO Max launched today, and is now available on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. WarnerMedia's new streaming service, which replaces HBO Now, combines HBO content with shows and films from Warner Bros and Turner TV. The service is available as a native app on the ‌Apple TV‌ HD and ‌Apple TV‌ 4K, but second and third-generation ‌Apple TV‌ owners will need to AirPlay HBO Max content...

First App Using Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API Launches in Switzerland

Tuesday May 26, 2020 3:02 pm PDT by
The first app that takes advantage of the Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google has launched in Switzerland, according to a report from the BBC. A team of app developers working on contact tracing app called SwissCovid have rolled out the app in a beta capacity for members of the Swiss army, hospital workers, and civil servants. After the app is tested and approved by MPs,...

Anker Launches $100 24K Gold-Plated USB-C to Lightning Cable

Wednesday May 27, 2020 12:47 pm PDT by
Anker, a brand normally known for its well-made, affordable accessories for Apple devices, has debuted a new $100 24K gold-plated USB-C to Lightning cable. According to Anker, the cable, which is in the PowerLine+ III family, features a "Special Edition Gold Design" that's "bold yet elegant" with the aforementioned gold-plated cable heads and matching braided gold and black cable. The...

Apple Reissuing Numerous iOS App Updates, Potentially Related to Recent 'This App is No Longer Shared' Bug

Sunday May 24, 2020 9:13 pm PDT by
Over the past few hours, a number of MacRumors readers have reported seeing dozens or even hundreds of pending app updates showing in the App Store on their iOS devices, including for many apps that were already recently updated by the users. In many cases, the dates listed on these new app updates extend back as far as ten days. Apple has not shared any information as to why updates for...