One former Siri project leader is a little disappointed at Apple’s progress with it
He understands why it’s been so slow to grow Siri into something Google Assistant or even Alexa is becoming at a faster rate, but Norman Winarsky still feels a little disappointed at how Apple isn’t proceeding at building its digital assistant’s abilities and adeptness more than eight years after the company acquired it.
“Surprise and delight is kind of missing right now,” Winarsky told Quartz in a recent interview.
Winarsky led entrepreneurial efforts at the non-profit SRI International which focused on military applications. Siri became a spin-off startup in 2010, which Winarsky was still a part of, and it only took two months until Apple snapped it up and about another year or so before Siri debuted on the iPhone 4S. He believed that a Siri under Apple would “start another revolution.”
Her conversation is still stilted in spots. She still pulls web searches for commands and requests that Google and Amazon can pull off with ease. And Winarsky, who now works in venture capital, admits he fell into the whimsical paradigm best described by Bill Gates: people tend to “overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.”
Part of it might be in the way the original startup wanted to target Siri versus how Apple ended up handling it. In short, Siri was meant to be an airport-based personal concierge that told users the status of their flights, rerouted them if needed to avoid delays or cancellations or, failing that, booking a hotel for the night. From there, Siri would expand to other sectors.
Instead, Siri ended up being a personal assistant for everything from email to music searches to all the little tasks a person might otherwise waste time on during the day like setting timers. With such a wide angle, tackling the performance gap is a little harder, the former associate thinks.
“These are hard problems and when you’re a company dealing with up to a billion people, the problems get harder yet,” Winarsky said.
Apple is likely “looking for a level of perfection they can’t get,” he adds, which may sound like a challenge to some. Indeed, if the company isn’t looking for perfection, it is looking to pad service revenues out through links to third-party features and more immediately commercialized paths like a subscription to Apple Music.
All of this begs the question of how Apple actually treats Siri right now and how it sees the future for the nebulous little thing.