John Giannandrea, former head of Google’s machine learning division, starts later this month.
From a note to clients by Guggenheim’s Robert Cihra that landed in my inbox Tuesday:
We have confirmed that Mr. Giannandrea will start later this month and report DIRECTLY to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, which we consider critical so that he is not beholden to any one product or service (e.g., Siri, iPhone), the way Craig Federighi runs Software across iOS and macOS platforms.
That said, we presume Siri will be Mr. Giannandrea’s initial focus, as we believe natural language understanding (NLU) is one of his specialties (e.g., his quote from Google’s own NLU team blog says “Understanding language is the holy grail of machine learning”). And that seems key, since we think Apple was early launching Siri with the iPhone 4s back in 2011, has since been challenged to keep pace with Alexa and Google Assistant, and yet maintains a strong point of leverage in Siri being the DEFAULT AI assistant on iPhones, so thereby accessed by hundreds of millions of active users every month…
From a positioning standpoint, we see Apple’s hardware+software integration and economic model built on selling DEVICES not cloud services, so expect its AI/ML to stay focused on making its products more intuitive (better), not conduits to monetizing something else. We think this is why Apple has no incentive to ever provide an API for Siri to run on third-party hardware, rather just an API for developers to access Siri from third-party iOS apps. Apple’s self-imposed policies to protect user privacy can also sometimes be seen as a hurdle to harvesting / learning from much more massive customer datasets.
However, we expect that Apple can still leverage its ownership of iOS and product-centric model to its advantage, including through more EDGE processing to execute AI/ML directly on its devices (e.g., iPhone, Watch, AirPods, Apple TV, HomePod), as well as leveraging its unique focus on user privacy as a marketing advantage (e.g., “differential privacy”).
My take: Cihra has thought more deeply than most Apple analysts about machine learning and how it fits into Apple’s business model.