Tencent technology news on October 5, Apple released its digital assistant Siri as early as a decade ago. However, due to the unclear positioning, the closed strategy of Apple system and the listing of competitors, Siri’s performance on mobile devices is not as good as Google assistant, and it is defeated by Amazon Alexa in the field of home devices.
Ten years ago today, Apple released the digital assistant Siri and promised to finally solve the communication problem between users and devices.
Phil Schiller, an apple executive, said at the iPhone 4S launch: “we hope to have a direct dialogue with technology and ask it to do things for us. But for decades, technology experts have been teasing us with this dream.” “haven’t we seen this scenario again and again before? But it has never come true.”
Schiller explained that the problem is that the voice interface relies too much on simple syntax. For example, “call Mom”, “dial 555 – 2368”, “play Beethoven’s music”. “What we really want to do is talk directly to the device,” he said. “In this case, your phone will understand what you mean and help you do what you want to do.” he paused and then cut to the next slide, which is a familiar microphone icon. “This is a feature on the iPhone 4S, which we call Siri.”
Schiller called Siri a “humble personal assistant”. Siri added a bit of a star effect to the iPhone during the difficult times Apple faced in 2011. Just a few months before the launch of the phone, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer, was appointed CEO; The day after Schiller’s speech, Steve Jobs, the legendary founder of the company, died. Analysts were generally calm about Apple’s prospects, but praised Siri’s hope to change the rules of the game. Some say it is “a powerful omen of the future use of mobile devices”, while others say it is “a new beginning for the user experience of all Apple Mobile and MAC products”.
Figure: Siri, Apple’s digital assistant released on the iPhone 4S, initially added a bit of star effect to the iPhone
Ten years later, Siri’s aura has faded. The phrase Schiller once used to describe the voice interface “this is so disappointing” is not too much for Siri. Everyone who has used Siri has a bad time. Many times, it can’t execute simple commands or hear clear instructions incorrectly, which makes users surprised by the stupidity, not intelligence, of Apple’s digital assistant. Although the voice interface has long been popular, although apple is still the first company to list related products, Siri is no longer in the lead. The so-called “humble personal assistant” is indeed very modest: it does not perform as well as Google assistant on mobile devices and is defeated by Amazon Alexa in the field of home devices.
Looking back on the development of Apple Siri in the past decade, there seems to be a question worth asking: Hi, Siri, what’s the matter?
Back in 2011, people had a very positive initial response to Siri’s launch, and commentators were impressed by the responsiveness and accuracy of this function. “What’s crazy about Siri is that its performance, at least most of the time, is better than you expected.” “it’s a bit like making my dream free intern on call.” “Siri saves time and energy, saves people from exploring how to use new devices, and profoundly changes the definition of ‘mobile phone’.” in a word, Apple seems to have fulfilled its promise.
But now looking at these comments, it is clear that people’s evaluation trend of Siri is a curve. The novelty and commitment at the beginning of the launch have brought positive comments to Siri. When commenting on the problems, commentators said that Siri is only in the testing stage, and any problems will be solved in due course. Some media pointed out some problems that users are familiar with when analyzing Siri in detail in 2011. For example, they often hear wrong instructions in a noisy environment and can’t understand complex instructions.
Although Apple Siri has a first mover advantage, it didn’t take long for its competitors to appear on the stage. In 2012, Samsung entered s voice on galaxy S3 smartphone; In the same year, Google now was launched on Google Android platform and renamed Google assistant in 2016; In 2014, Microsoft launched Cortana for Windows Phone; Amazon also releases its Alexa to customers through echo smart speakers. Direct dialogue with various devices soon became the preset function of major manufacturers.
During this period, the industry’s comments and comparison on digital assistants highlighted two trends. First, people soon began to get tired of Siri. When evaluating iPhone smartphones after iPhone 4S, critics will also mention Siri updates, but they won’t spend too much time on functions. To some extent, it seems that this is only because Siri changes too little, but also because the freshness of users has faded.
The second major trend is that with the emergence of competitors, apple Siri’s advantage soon disappeared. In 2012, someone compared Siri with Samsung’s s s voice and found that the latter was “very close” to apple. A comparative test in 2014 showed that “Google now will beat Apple Siri”. By 2017, users began to feel dissatisfied with various digital assistants. Some commentators pointed out that Siri “basically feels immature”. Many people believe that although digital assistants can respond to many basic problems, they can not freely complete daily tasks such as booking tickets or ordering meals. They often create new problems.
Looking back, Siri’s main problem obviously lies in his failure to maintain a positive momentum. Siri had basic functions such as setting alarm clock and taking notes as early as 2011, but the function has never been significantly expanded. The function of answering trivial questions and retrieving sports results is interesting, but it is not so important for users. At the same time, competitors replicate and surpass Siri. They began to provide more reliable dictation, better semantic understanding and integration with third-party functions. But Siri didn’t keep up.
What’s the problem?
So, what went wrong? How did Apple Siri lose its lead? The answer is complicated. Many people believe that Apple’s emphasis on privacy means that Siri will never catch up with competitors such as Google, which can collect user data and is very useful in improving artificial intelligence systems. However, this is not the main reason for Siri’s failure. First, Apple’s love for user privacy is far from absolute. For example, in 2019, the media disclosed that “a small part” of Siri recordings were outsourced for analysis, and the content included the user’s private information. Moreover, apple is a large company with a market value of $2 trillion. If you want to bypass the troublesome problem of collecting user data, you can spend money to solve it. Of course, it is useful to analyze the user’s dialogue with Siri, but the same effect can be achieved by other methods.
A more convincing explanation is management. In 2018, the media published a communication report on the back and forth of Siri team. It points out that there are deep-rooted differences within the company on whether Siri focuses on search and retrieval or performs complex tasks. These differences originated from jobs’s initial plan for Siri, but have evolved into “territorial disputes and fierce quarrels” between internal factions. Apple executives in charge of Siri R & D lack leadership and continuity, which exacerbates the seriousness of the problem. A former Siri employee said, “Steve died the day after Siri was released, and they lost their direction… They didn’t see the big picture.” this statement is consistent with the stagnation of development work after Siri’s initial release.
Other problems stem from Apple’s concept of technological development. For example, it is reported that Richard Williamson, an apple executive, decided to make only one major update to Siri every year, following the rhythm of the company’s new hardware and IOS updates. This seems to slow down Siri’s R & D progress. Williamson refuted this claim. In 2012, he left apple after the failure of Apple map release. Scott Forstall, another executive in charge of Siri and apple maps, also left in the same year.
In addition, there is Apple’s “fence” strategy, which means that Siri has been well matched with IOS system functions, but it performs poorly in third-party services. Many users find that they can’t even perform simple tasks on mainstream IOS applications. Instead, apple uses Siri to drive users back to their own applications. For example, ask Siri for directions, which will prompt users to reinstall Apple maps; If you try to send an email, Siri will say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” and then guide users to the Apple App store to download Apple’s default email app, which shows how hasty Siri’s development work is.
Finally, all digital assistants have the problem of inconsistent user expectations, which is not just a problem faced by Apple Siri.
When Schiller launched Siri in 2011, he emphasized again and again that Siri would understand users and what people were saying. This sets too high a standard for Siri’s functions. If we think that the voice interface can achieve the same fluency and knowledge level as people, we will always be disappointed. When we talk, they can’t understand; We guessed which applications or commands they could support, and the results were even more disappointing. Every failed interaction tells the user: don’t trust this function. In contrast, screens and displays can clearly tell what they can and cannot do, because they provide menus, directions and buttons. Voice only provides itself and our prediction of intelligence. For Siri, users are used to Apple’s talent: they expect too much and apple offers too little.
The future of voice interface
At present, apple Siri and its similar products are often disappointing, but they still attract users because of their great potential. Despite the problems of voice interface, this technology represents real progress. You can use Siri to do some fast tasks, such as taking notes, setting timers and searching. This is a real way to save time. If users are willing to delve into iPhone shortcut commands, they will find that Siri can do more.
As an auxiliary tool, voice control and dictation open the door of modern equipment for more users. Since Apple launched Siri in 2011, the company has released many products that rely heavily on voice interface. This is either because the screen has limited operating space, or because many devices don’t have a screen at all. Apple’s augmented reality glasses that appear in the next few years are likely to add this feature. With this in mind, apple urgently needs to repair Siri rather than ignore it.
Figure: Siri has more use in Apple Earphones, smart speakers and other devices
There are also some signs that apple is turning things around. Overall, AI has received more attention from apple in recent years. From hiring Google’s machine learning director in 2018 to designing its own artificial intelligence processor, and then regularly launching artificial intelligence enhancements, Apple has obviously invested more energy in the field of artificial intelligence. Siri itself has also been significantly improved. This year, it has added functions such as supporting localized device processing and more third-party hardware.
However, Siri’s prospects are not clear. Even in terms of basic functions, Siri doesn’t seem to be standing still, or even going backwards. In the IOS 15 update, apple removed most of Siri’s functions, including tasks related to notes and photos, as well as third-party integration functions such as car hailing and payment.
The biggest problem is that apple still doesn’t know what it wants Siri to be. Does Siri just use voice to control the phone, allowing users to browse applications and find content? Or a practical assistant that can complete complex tasks instead of users? In advertising, apple tends to position Siri as the latter, but users find that Siri’s functions are limited to the former. The reality is that people are many years away from making equipment that truly understands them. Semantics is too complex, rooted in human experience and culture accumulated over a long time, and can not be simply solved by statistical model. Although there are many impressive new semantic systems on the market, they are not reliable enough to create a perfect digital assistant.
If Apple wants to save Siri, it needs to reset its expectations and focus on its core competitiveness. When Google launched Google assistant in 2016, the focus was not to solve complex tasks and understand every idea of users, but to give users more ways to use the company’s search function. This functional focus has brought Google more surprises rather than disappointments. In contrast, Siri surprised everyone when it was released in 2011, but since then, people’s favor for it has disappeared. Apple needs to refocus on Siri’s basic functions, rather than depicting a future that does not yet exist. (compiled by Tencent technology / Jiao Han)