28 January 2020
Poor performance of Siri voice assistant is believed to be among the reasons why sales of Apple's HomePod speakers have been tepid. Photo: Bloomberg
Poor performance of Siri voice assistant is believed to be among the reasons why sales of Apple's HomePod speakers have been tepid. Photo: Bloomberg

Why Apple needs to enhance its Siri voice tool

With iPhone sales slowing, Apple is taking a fresh look at its business and realigning its priorities in a bid to enhance the services income and catch up on rivals in aspects such as artificial intelligence (AI).

As subscription services are seen as the next growth engine, a vision spelt out by CEO Tim Cook, Apple is realizing that a key issue it needs to focus on is enhancing the voice assistant tool Siri, which has fallen behind competitors such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal noted in a report that Apple has been making changes in its management team as it reorders priorities across its various business divisions to prepare for the future.

Aiming to reduce the firm’s reliance on iPhones, which still contribute about two-thirds of Apple’s overall revenue, the focus now is on boosting services and potentially transformative technologies, the report said.

In keeping with that goal, Apple had in December elevated its AI chief John Giannandrea to the company’s executive team.

Giannandrea, who joined Apple from Google last April, will oversee the strategy for AI and machine learning (ML) across products and services, as well as the development of Siri technologies.

The mandate for Giannandrea’s team is to focus on advancing and tightly integrating ML into Apple products so as to deliver more personal, intelligent and natural interactions for customers while protecting user privacy, the company said in a press release while announcing the appointment.

Apple is rumored to be planning to unveil two new subscription services to users soon, with one being a news offering and the other a video subscription.

With AI deemed as the key pillar behind the service offerings, Apple has realized the need to enhance its voice technology tool Siri to help users in searching for desired content.

There is no doubt that Siri can play an important role in driving Apple’s digital subscription services growth, as the AI-powered tool can make suitable recommendations to users interested in browsing news or watching movies.

If users spend more time on the subscription services, Apple and its partners can reap more revenues.

Giannandrea’s promotion to Apple executive team, against this backdrop, shows how convinced Cook is about the importance of AI for Apple’s future.

“Machine learning and AI are important to Apple’s future as they are fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology, and already helping our customers live better lives,” Cook said in the press release in December while announcing Giannandrea’s promotion. 

Giannandrea now has the responsibility to improve the accuracy and performance of the Siri services, among other key tasks.

Many users complain that Siri comes up short when compared with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, even though Apple had been the first to offer a voice-powered digital assistant in the market in 2011 when it launched the iPhone 4S.

In order to improve the performance and function of Siri, Apple has just acquired a San Francisco-based startup name Pullstring, media reports said late last week.

Founded by former Pixar executives in 2011, PullString’s main product is Converse, a voice design and artificial intelligence tool that allows customers to create apps with custom voices and advanced sound design.

Pullstring had played a part in helping develop Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant services. With the acquisition, Apple can aim to enhance its own voice recognition assistant service and try to narrow the gap with the two main rivals in the market.

Siri has failed to satisfy users as it has not kept up with improvements made by its competitors. Some users have even labeled Apple’s voice tool as “dumb”. The poor performance of Siri is said to be a reason why sales of Apple’s HomePod speakers have been tepid.

As of now, Amazon Echo and Google Assistant together control more than half of the smart speaker market worldwide. Apple is ranked the sixth with less than 5 percent market share in the market.

If the Cupertino-based tech giant wants a bigger pie in the promising segment, it needs to quickly improve its Siri services to make it a real competitor to Alexa and Google Assistant.

Hence, the new acquisition as well as a reshuffle in the leadership in key divisions. We can only wait and watch if the initiatives yield the desired results.  

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EJ Insight writer