Siri, Apple is just not that into you

Eight seconds. That’s all the shine Siri got during the nearly two-hour long event Apple held on Wednesday. What did Siri do to deserve this level of disregard?

So. I caught the livestream of Apple’s big event yesterday, along with millions of other folks. Now, CEO Tim Cook said right from the beginning that this event was going to focus on two things: Apple Watch Series 4 and the new line of iPhone models. But I figured this might be a chance that Siri may get a little love — with some cool ways it could be integrated and showcase how it can enhance the device experience. So, I watched and waited.

Now I must say there was a lot of cool stuff that came out of the roughly two hours. You can best believe I’m getting one of those new Series 4 watches. The bigger screen and the faster processor are cool, but they had me at the fall detection and the new electrical heart sensor allowing you to do ECGs. Hey, when you get to my age, things like that start becoming need-to-haves.

The new phones also had some really cool stuff. That new A12 Bionic chip with the “next-generation Neural Engine” and all the cores (six core CPU and four core GPU) and processing power (capable of five trillion operations a second) sounds incredible. So, now developers can create some serious “immersive augmented reality experiences” — the kind you used to have a powerhouse desktop machine to run — that you can play on your smartphone. And that “liquid retina” display model? Wow. But since I bought an iPhone X last year, I’m not ready to fork up the bucks for a new phone just yet.

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So, I sat through all the oohs and ahhs for the new watch and phones, and yeah I kind of got caught up in some of the stuff I was seeing. And then it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard a word about Siri. But then, toward the very end, when it came time for the “other quick announcements” portion of the wrap up, Cook turned his focus to the HomePod. The news there was if you had a pair of HomePod devices you could connect them and create a “wide immersive sound stage” effect, and with AirPlay 2, you now have multi-room listening capabilities. And now you can make calls with your HomePod, and you can search for songs by their lyrics. So pretty much nothing that isn’t already being done — and has been done for a long time — with other smart speaker devices.

Then, finally, I heard what I had been waiting for… “And we couldn’t be more excited about how Siri Shortcuts can open up a world of apps for the HomePod.” That was it. It was over. Cook had already moved on to tvOS, almost literally in the blink of an eye.

Man, if I were Siri, I’d be like, “What did I do wrong?” During Google’s big event this past summer, Google Home and Assistant were center stage. I mean, remember all the noise around that Google Duplex demo? And we don’t even need to bring up Alexa, because now you can’t even think about Amazon without Alexa popping up. But Siri, who’s been around the longest and is hosted on the most popular mobile devices, got eight seconds.

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Maybe Apple just saw Siri as a fun feature in 2011 and didn’t see the true potential. And couldn’t have envisioned the heights Amazon, Google, and others — which came along with smart speakers and assistants years after Siri hit the scene — seem to be taking voice assistants. And by the time it realized what was going on and was able to get HomePod out there, the momentum, mindshare, and thought leadership — all the things Apple has with phones, tablets, and watches — had been snatched by companies with the deep pockets and “swag” needed to stay ahead of them.

Look, it’s not like Apple is hurting, with its billions of cash reserves and being the first company to ever cross the trillion-dollar market cap valuation. And Cook mentioned mind-blowing stats to kick off the event:

  • It is about to cross the two billion number in terms of iOS devices shipped
  • 500 million customers going into Apple stores annually

So, needless to say, it’s not time to be burying Apple. But it does seem un-Apple like to miss out on what is a significant consumer technology trend — like what’s going on with smart speakers and assistants — especially when it was one that it created (and a category that seems to be growing faster than the watch category is). But it’s obvious that, eight seconds withstanding, its focus is on other areas. And that’s OK because those areas — like driving more computing power into phones and watches, and providing a mobile platform for delivering richer AR experiences and powerful AI capabilities for healthcare/fitness — should pay off big time for them. And it’s the leaders and shape shifters in this space. It’s probably too late for them to rip the leadership role from Amazon and Google in voice assistants and smart speakers. But it just seems like a lost opportunity not to more seriously compete, as there is money to be made and more attention to be consumed with a more competitive Siri on mobile devices.

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Maybe, if Apple doesn’t want to focus in this area but still wants to have more of a say in the direction of things, a partnership with Amazon to put Alexa on iPhone models would really shake things up. And believe me, I’m not banking on that happening, but short of something like that, Siri might have seen it’s best eight seconds for the time being.

To hear more about how smart speaker and smart assistant adoption is seeping into more of the customer journey, check out the embedded video of my conversation with Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, on the results of their recent study The State of Voice Assistants.

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