Developers and Former Apple Employees Question Siri’s Ability

Firmware Reveals HomePod's Display Resolution, Memory Specs Credit: Panorama / Getty Images
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Even despite the platform’s advancements showcased at WWDC this week, Apple employees who formerly worked on the company’s Siri development team (as well as current software developers) expressed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that they believe Siri is lagging behind competing voice-assistant platforms from Amazon and Google.

During Monday morning’s keynote speech, Apple not only showed off a ton of intriguing new features coming to Siri in iOS 11 this fall, but the company also showcased its all-new HomePod Siri speaker device. On the software side, Siri in iOS 11 will gain a number of new abilities including a built-in language translation feature, the ability to learn from a user’s habits and interests, and a greater contextual understanding of spoken or typed commands. As for the HomePod, Apple’s first standalone Siri product, it’s essentially a cylindrical-shaped, voice-activated speaker — similar to offerings like the Amazon Echo and Google Home — albeit boasting uber-premium audio capabilities and deep integration with other Apple products and services.

Even despite these perceived advancements, however, more than one former Apple employee expressed their sentiments that Siri’s capabilities are still far behind those of Amazon’s Echo, in particular. In fact, the source told the Wall Street Journal that they and their team of colleagues working on the Siri project didn’t even realize how far behind Siri actually was until they saw products like Echo emerge from the woodwork.

“People at Apple’s anxiety level went up a notch,” said the former employee, who added that by releasing the Echo, Amazon demonstrated how its Alexa platform is able to isolate peripheral and background noise while increasing the distance from which it would be able to respond to queries from across the room.

Moreover, the former employee added, in the years following Amazon’s release of the first Echo device, Apple’s Siri team has been slowed down in many ways — from “setting ambitious goals, shifting strategies, and a culture that prioritizes user privacy.” And that last bit, in particular, is a big part of the challenge, added other former employees, who believe that Cupertino’s strong stance on protecting customer privacy ultimately comes at the expense of a fully-fledged Siri experience. They cited, for instance, that Amazon doesn’t have the same restrictions in place that Apple does, while adding how recent tests concluded Siri just isn’t as accurate as platforms like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.

“In tests across 5,000 different questions, [Siri] answered accurately 62% of the time, lagging the roughly 90% accuracy rate of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa,” according to Stone Temple, a digital marketing firm.

Apple’s Siri project was further compromised by the abrupt departure of her co-creators, Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, who left the Siri team in early 2016 so they could work on a more advanced, AI-based voice-assistant platform they dubbed Viv — which was ultimately purchased by Samsung last summer.

Current developers, meanwhile, appear to believe that Apple’s decision to open SiriKit to third-party developers in recent years is simply “too little, too late,” citing that even though Apple opened the platform to developers, many of them were left disappointed by the limited scope of Siri’s abilities.

“People went from being happy and excited to sitting in workshops and realizing, ‘I can’t use it’” said Brian Roemmele, a developer who’s attended the last few WWDC events. “Some went back to that attitude: Siri’s always going to be dumb.”

Meanwhile, despite the bittersweet sentiments from those in the know, Apple has staunchly defended the Siri platform, saying that no voice-assistants on the market today is able to capture the full scope of the technology.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet software and services (of which Siri is constituent), believes that no voice-assistant is currently producing “A+ on conversation.” Cue nevertheless continues to feel optimistic about the future of Siri and her implications, saying that “It’s a challenging problem and there’s a lot of work to be done in that area. It will get a lot better and needs to get a lot better.”

How has your experience using Siri been so far? Let us know in the comments!

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