The Information: Why Siri sucks

It’s even worse than I feared, judging from the report posted Wednesday by The Information ($).

From The Seven-Year Itch: How Apple’s Marriage to Siri Turned Sour, by Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin:

Many of the former employees acknowledged for the first time that Apple rushed Siri into the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully baked, setting up an internal debate that has raged since Siri’s inception over whether to continue patching up a flawed build or to rip it up and start from scratch. And that debate was just one of many, as 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.

Presiding over it all has been a revolving door of team leaders and middle managers who lack the kind of vision or clout possessed by Mr. Jobs, who passed away from pancreatic cancer the day after Apple introduced Siri. The absence of such leadership and the constant turnover has held Siri back in key ways, these former employees said, most notably in the failure to open up Apple’s notoriously closed culture to allow outside developers a greater opportunity to create a broader array of useful Siri apps…

“When Alexa shipped, it was rock solid from day one,” said a former Siri team member. “For Siri to get there, they almost need to set everything aside and start over.”

My take: Do it! Set everything aside and start over!

UPDATE: I resubscribed for a month to The Information, just for this piece. Was it worth $39? It was for me. The back and forth between Siri’s founding CEO Dag Kittlaus and Richard Williamson, who inherited Siri from a distracted Scott Forstall, is priceless. E.g.:

After publication, Mr. Kittlaus tweeted in response [to Williamson]: “This statement, wholly false, was made by the architect and head of the biggest launch disaster in Apple history, Apple Maps. In reality Siri worked great at launch but, like any new platform under unexpectedly massive load, required scaling adjustments and 24 hour workdays.”

And then, at the structural level, there’s this:

Core Siri and Spotlight are powered by a combination of both Topsy’s technology and Siri Data Services, which is based on older search technology ported over from iTunes search but modified for Siri and launched in 2013, said the former employee. Siri Data Services deals with things like Wikipedia, stocks and movie showtimes, while Topsy sorts through Twitter, news and web results. The Siri Data Services team was eventually lumped into the Topsy team under Mr. Prakash with the plan to integrate all of the tech into a single stack. But they’re based on two different programming languages and are tricky to reconcile.

Legacies. Ugh.

See also: Hey Tim Cook, you’ve got a Siri problem


  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    SIRI was put forward as a complete product at trade shows before Apple bought it. Funny how the original founders/engineers bad mouth it now, after selling their next voice assistant to Samsung, a voice assistant that is notoriously, unquestionably bad to the point it’s virtually unusable.

    March 14, 2018
  2. Fred Stein said:
    My assessment:
    Scott Forstall saved Apple with NextStep which became MacOS and iOS.He failed with Siri and Maps. Both remain sub par. Giving Siri to Eddy made no sense. AI requires the best SW brains in the industry. Speech Recognition, Grammar, and Understanding are the toughest areas in AI.
    With Craig, we can hope. In a few years (maybe more) typing and touchscreens will seem as quaint as writing checks at the super market.

    Voice input is not a feature, It’s the future.

    March 14, 2018
    • David Drinkwater said:
      I’ll say it again: Shazam acquisition. Watch that space.

      March 15, 2018
      • Tommo_UK said:
        Let’s just hope the EU don’t throw a spanner in the works with anti-competition concerns.

        March 15, 2018

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