How the mighty have fallen. Back in 2011, Apple was on the leading edge of mainstream voice assistants when it introduced Siri on the iPhone 4S. While Siri wasn’t without its problems in those days, it was still well ahead of what any other mainstream companies were doing in the voice recognition space.
Over the past eight years, however, Apple has squandered its lead so badly that we can’t really blame you if you don’t realize that Siri actually came out three years before Amazon’s Alexa saw the light of day. The good news, though, is that it looks like Apple is finally starting to wake up to the fact that Siri needs a lot of help, and that the company can no longer count on the voice assistant’s privileged position on its own hardware devices to carry it.
We’ve already seen some evidence of this in recent months, with Apple’s hiring of Google’s former AI Chief, John Giannandrea last spring and the later creation of a new senior executive position for him heading up Machine Learning and AI Strategy — a portfolio that suggests a larger reorganization of teams and responsibilities within Apple than many might expect on the surface, since this potentially includes everything from Siri and the Neural Engine in Apple’s A-series processors to Apple’s self-driving car software.
Under Giannandrea’s leadership, Siri has undergone some big shuffles as the newly-minted Senior VP works to refocus the Siri team and start thinking more long-term about the long-neglected voice assistant. Now, a new job listing on Apple’s site shows what is undoubtedly another step in Giannandrea’s efforts to get Siri back on track.
According to the job listing, Apple is seeking an “Engineering Program Manager: Siri Social Media Analysis & Marketing Production” who will be responsible for analyzing the actual customer impact of Siri, most notably by keeping an eye on social media to see what users think of the voice assistant, and then compile that data to make recommendations to the Siri team and other senior management for the areas that Siri should be focusing on.
The Siri team is looking for an organized, thoughtful, and driven program manager to contribute in two key areas: First, developing and leading a program to proactively understand where Siri is building the most customer impact as well as where Siri can continue to grow and improve; this will require monitoring what the world is saying about Siri through social media, news, and other sources; then providing product analysis and recommendations to stakeholders and leadership.
While the job listing naturally tries to put Apple’s usual positive spin with phrases like discovering where Siri is “building the most customer impact,” there’s no doubt that much of the new hire’s responsibilities will be reviewing all of the negative feedback that Siri is garnering — there’s a whole subreddit dedicated to Siri’s failings — with an aim to improving the service in those areas.
The job description adds that the person will be responsible for creating a program to “understand the world zeitgeist sentiment of Siri” — implying that such a program has not previously existed — and share this information with Siri leadership to make recommendations on where Siri can be improved.
However, the job listing also suggests that the secondary duty of the person in that role will be to help share a positive outlook for Siri, noting that the person will need to work with the Siri team to help with Apple’s marketing campaigns, both to clear up confusion in areas where users may be confused, but also to provide positive examples of where Siri is working as designed, such as “surfacing glowing press (like when Siri literally saves lives)” and looking for other trends of positive sentiment toward Apple’s voice assistant.
The move toward creating a dedicated position and program for analyzing user feedback about Siri is definitely a positive one, but with the position also having a marketing focus, there’s definitely a danger that this could go the other way — placing the emphasis on spinning Siri’s good points while continuing to ignore the bad. Taken alongside the other recent changes in the Siri team, however, we’re cautiously optimistic that Apple is finally serious about addressing the issues with its voice assistant at their core rather than just slapping on bandages and making iterative improvements.