When Apple bought Siri in 2010, they showed that they were interested in competing with Google on the search front, or at least in the way search looked. Google had recently purchased Aardvark to create their own mobile assistant, after all. The company nearly immediately discontinued the BlackBerry app for Siri and began building the technology directly into iOS. This move began a war for assistant supremacy, which today is hotter than it has ever been.
The problem, for those who use Siri, is that Apple has put very few resources behind the platform since it appeared on the iPhone. Sure, it has been added into macOS and recently released on the HomePod, but Siri's capabilities have languished behind, well... everyone. Google Assistant, Alexa and Cortana all offer more robust music streaming capabilities than Siri, which makes the HomePod a less attractive device than the Google Home, Amazon Echo or Harman Kardon Invoke. Her search results tend to be more link-driven than spoken, making her more like the Google app than a standalone feature.
Apple has recognized this industry-wide criticism and has decided to finally devote resources to competing once again. A recent analysis showed that Apple has about 161 job listings for roles within the Siri engineering team. One of those jobs was filled this week, as Apple has hired John Giannandrea to head up the company's efforts.
Until Monday, Giannandrea was the Senior Vice President of search and artificial intelligence at Google. Previously, he had bneen the Chief Technologist for Netscape and currently sits on the board of trustees for SETI Institute, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. On Tuesday, he joined Apple to head up their machine learning and AI strategy. The company uses AI on a few fronts, but none are as front-and-center as Siri.
In an internal memo, CEO Tim Cook told employees,
Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear... John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.
Apple, as a way of separating itself from the pack, currently claims that its AI approach does not involve tracking personal and user identifiable information. This is going to create a challenge for a former Google executive, a company known for tracking every behavior of its users. If Apple is serious about this approach, then Giannandrea is going to have to completely rethink the way he does things.