On October 4, 2011, Siri saw the light at the presentation of the iPhone 4s. It was a technological milestone for Apple, but also for the sector, because for the first time an intelligent virtual assistant was integrated into a mass product. What once got off to a promising start, underwent a period of disillusionment with broken promises, only to win petition upon petition to a certain interest from the general public.
Siri lands on the iPhone 4s in 2011
Siri is not an Apple creation. The wizard is born as a spin-off of the SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center, which was born in an advanced technology project of DARPA, belonging to the US Department of Defense. It was using the recognition system from Nuance, an old acquaintance in the industry.
The Siri company launched a standalone app for iOS in February 2010, with plans to launch a similar one on Android and BlackBerry. On April 29, 2010, it was announced that Apple was buying Siri, withdrawing the app from the App Store and aborting any plan to convert it to multiplatform. Apple’s plans are unknown until October 4, 2011, just ten years ago today, the company unveiled the iPhone 4s.
Since then, the voice assistant would be included as a feature increasingly integrated into the operating system and not as a standalone app. With successive versions of iPhone and software improvements, it was gaining functions and independence. Hey Siri on the iPhone 6s was a huge step forward. With iOS 10, support for third-party apps was added in various categories. Recognition of personal voices was also a major achievement years later.
From the beginning, Apple was clear that Siri had to be on all your devices. Thus, in June 2012 it came to the iPad and three months later to the iPod touch. In September 2015 it landed on Apple TV, arriving on AirPods and Mac at the end of 2016. The HomePod debuted with the assistant as early as February 2018.
Siri’s Disappointment Cycle
Gartner presented a few years ago an investigation called the Hype Cycle or hype cycle. According to the analyst firm, any new technology goes through a cycle of five phases that starts with the launch, reaches its peak of exaggerated expectations and is followed by an abyss of disappointment before consolidating and reaching the productivity plateau.
Siri got off to a promising start. In its embryonic state before the acquisition of Apple, it was capable of making and combining a multitude of orders. Nevertheless, integration into the iPhone curtailed these possibilities to the benefit of other priorities: more languages and more devices. It took many years for Siri to reach the same level it was starting from.
This did not stop the hype cycle from continuing to grow. To the point where the entry of Google first and Amazon later catapult you to fever pitch with Google Assistant and Alexa. An enthusiasm that led many to think that the voice would become one of our usual interactions on a daily basis, rivaling the screens.
Google and Amazon seemed to have finally found a paradigm that would allow them to overcome the growing preponderance of the iPhone in the high-end of users. Some clients who, by definition, they were the most valuable in the eyes of advertising and ecommerce. This is the only way to understand the sick obsession with launching tiny speakers with a built-in assistant, priced at around $ 30 with their frequent promotions.
The pivot of Amazon from the loudspeaker-microphone pairing to the screen-camera is very revealing of the march of the voice as an interface
Years passed and the force of the hype cycle put Siri and other attendees on their site. Things have changed so much that at last week’s event, Amazon did not introduce a single speaker with microphones. Instead, we saw a home robot called Astro as an example of the change experienced. It is curious to see how we have gone from the speaker-microphone pairing to that of the screen-camera in such a short time.
Putting Siri and other assistants in their place
Virtual assistants have seen much slower growth in capabilities than was initially expected. Certainly Alexa and Assistant tend to have a better reputation than Siri in terms of recognition, interpretation and execution of orders. But at the end of the day, the uses in all of them are similar.
PwC asked in a study about the everyday uses of voice assistants. The answers are reflected in the upper graph, where checking the weather is the most widespread daily function with 35%, followed by play music with 33% and do a search with 32%. Asking quick questions got 29% and putting a countdown or reminder 23%.
The use case that Amazon wants the most, online shopping, finds rejection among the majority of users
Of course, virtual assistants are far from being used for any sophisticated action. Much less, chain orders and questions. Surely, if the study had focused on speakers, music would occupy the first place, with a usage far ahead of the rest. But what should not escape is the fact that the voice is used for very simple commands.
The reality is that the voice is not a good vehicle to display abundant and rich information. For it, a screen is far superior. And that’s where wearables like the Apple Watch they have a clear advantage over voice and even the smartphone.
Siri may not have lived up to initial expectations. But the truth is that those same expectations were directly unrealizable. Apple’s assistant has finally found its place in everyday actions, direct and easy to execute. Less ambitious functions, yes, but with our feet on the ground.