Digital Assistants – Dissociative identity

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Siri’s fragmentation could be her undoing.

  • Apple’s focus on devices has meant that there are multiple different implementations of Siri which is starting to cause problems.
  • If the digital assistant is to become the next generation OS, then it is Google, Baidu and Amazon that are in the driving seat as history has repeatedly shown that software fragmentation is extremely detrimental for the user experience.
  • Fortunately for Apple, I think that this is a problem that it should be able to fix.
  • Put simply, the problem exists because of the decision that Apple has made to run Siri locally on devices rather than have the intelligence sitting in the cloud.
  • This is an understandable decision from a company so rigidly focused on devices and differentiating with security and privacy.
  • However, this decision is now beginning to show some problems.
  • Siri is now present on iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Mac, iPad and HomePod and each instance is slightly different and has a different skill set.
  • For example, Siri on Apple TV has a different set of skill domains than on the iPhone and the HomePod is incapable of doing some of the most basic things that are available on the iPhone.
  • Furthermore, the third-party skills are all implemented on the device meaning that if the user enables Siri on the iPhone to call an Uber, all of his other devices will remain unable to do it.
  • This is because SiriKit is a client-side SDK meaning that all the extensions run only on the client resulting in the limitation that I have outlined above.
  • By contrast Google, Amazon and Baidu have implemented the intelligence and the third-party extensions in the cloud meaning that there is only one version sitting in the cloud that can be accessed from any enabled device.
  • When a skill is enabled on one device, it is enabled on all of them giving complete uniformity of user experience.
  • Google Assistant is now so good at this that if two devices are in range of the voice it will answer the request on the device that is most suited to delivering the answer or service requested.
  • As voice becomes more important in controlling electronic devices, Siri’s fragmentation is going to lead to frustration and disappointment among users.
  • We are already starting to see this in the HomePod where the consensus review opinion is: fantastic speaker, poor digital experience.
  • Hence, this is a device that competes almost entirely on hardware which will work for a while and then cause real problems as competition catches up.
  • Harmon Kardon, JBL, Sonos etc are the real competitors for this product and their flexibility around digital assistants and third-party services may well give them an edge.
  • Some time ago, Apple put together its disparate AI research efforts but it seems to me that it has not gone far enough.
  • It would appear that there is a central repository where the master code line of Siri is developed which is then checked out and customised by product teams to make it more applicable for the device they are creating.
  • This results in fragmentation and inconsistency that wastes R&D resources and hurts the user experience.
  • This is exactly the problem that contributed to Samsung’s and Motorola’s inability to mount a serious challenge to Nokia in feature phones 15 years ago.
  • In Apple’s case I think that this still a reasonably straight forward fix by moving Siri and SiriKit completely to the cloud which would be a great feature to announce at WWDC this year.
  • Failure to make this change will simply hand the advantage even more to Google, Baidu and Amazon who are far and away the leaders in this space.
  • The question is whether Apple has the depth of character to make this change as it now has a massive business that is at the peak of its power and the requirement not to risk put this at risk will make it hesitate.
  • This is exactly the hesitation that made innovation at Nokia very difficult and sank its smartphone business.
  • This is why I think Apple must make this change, because if a high quality digital assistant becomes a requirement in the user’s purchase decision, Siri in its current form will start to play against users when purchasing digital ecosystem devices.

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