When I have written about Apple’s AI and Machine Learning initiatives in the past, the articles have usually centered around Siri and Voice Dictation. It’s easy to put these things together because Siri is the most visible and user-centered Apple interface that involves AI. However, as we have seen this month, there is a lot more than meets the eye going on beneath the surface at Apple.
Last week, Wired ran a story about a lunch talk given by Apple’s leading AI expert, Rutland Salakhutdinov, for around 200 others in the field during the NIPS machine learning conference. The most interesting thing to come out of his presentation was fresh news of Apple’s continued work in the field of self-driving cars.
A couple of days ago, I asked if Siri is finally starting to improve. I’ve seen some positive changes and evidently I’m not the only one. However, as was noted in the survey that was the main focus of my article, Siri isn’t where it needs to be when it comes to music. This has to be a major concern for Apple, especially considering that they recently delayed the release of a new hardware platform that will depend heavily on Siri’s skill as a “musicologist.”
When you live with something for a while, it can be difficult to detect little changes that occur over time. The subtle differences and small tweaks can slip by without notice. I am definitely having this experience with Siri in my daily use over the last few months. I can’t tell you when both Siri and the on-board Voice Dictation started replacing and correcting words after the fact based on grammar rules, but I see that it’s happening on a regular basis now. One direct example I noticed recently would be Dictation replacing “there” with “their” based on the context of the sentence after I had dictated a few more words. I’ve seen the same with “your” and “you’re,” as well. This makes voice dictation far more flexible and usable, since I don’t have to go back and edit as often.
If you haven’t heard by now, Apple has pushed the release of the HomePod from the more advantageous Holiday sales season to sometime in early 2018. I can’t say this comes as a massive surprise, because there has been very little news on the device over the last month. Part of that is because of the massive wave of interest in the new iPhone X, but if it had been coming out in December, we would have seen some leaks by now. This is definitely unfortunate for Apple, as they will certainly lose potential sales in a market where they are already later to arrive than usual. However, the why is more interesting than the what in this situation.
Apple acquired a small AI-focused messaging startup Init.ai earlier this week. This is just the latest in a string of recent acquisitions for Apple that have all been related to AI or machine learning. Last week saw Apple purchase the French computer vision company Regaind. Earlier in the year Apple also purchased SensoMotoric Instruments and Lattice.
It’s been a good week taking a look at several aspects and features of the new Apple Watch Series 3. I was already a fan of the Apple Watch platform and watchOS 4, so liking this new device isn’t a major surprise. However, I enjoy and appreciate the independence aspect of the new Watch more than I initially expected. Now, as I come close to closing out this series, I’m circling back to a couple of the primary features of the device. Tonight, the focus in on Siri.
If you are an Apple fan, you’ve probably already heard that the company has officially shifted the responsibility for Siri from Eddy Cue’s Services Group over to Craig Federighi’s OS Group. On the face of it, this may not seem like a big deal, but looking beyond this one event to the context of many other changes in the last year, I feel like it will be, and I’m not alone in thinking that.
It also could easily be interpreted as a failure on the part of Mr Cue, who has done wonders for stabilizing and incrementally improving Apple Maps, iCloud, and Apple Music. Despite his successes in other areas, it is difficult to ignore the stagnation and lack of direction for Siri under his watch. Based on recent comments from both former and current Siri team members, it seems that there has been a lack of effective leadership, direction and emphasis on the service over the last several years. That period of time has seen all of the other major voice assistant platforms catch or surpass Siri in both accuracy and capability.
What a week it has been. Apple has definitely made the most of its time in the spotlight, grabbing the media’s attention and showing us that they can still innovate, be aggressive, and even listen to what users are asking for from time to time. While all may not be perfect, and there are still questions to answer, iOS 11 looks REALLY good, and the new iPad Pro features are a huge upgrade. As for the HomePod, let’s reserve judgement until we at lease see it in a closer to final form.
Beyond all the great software and hardware announcements, which I will get into in greater depth soon, there is other Apple news of note to look into. Let’s get to it.
This has been building since Apple’s acquisition of Beats in 2014, but after WWDC, I think things are starting to come into clearer focus. Apple is now transitioning from dominating the declining business of purchasing music to dominating multiple areas in the field. But it goes deeper than that. They are building toward something. I think they are currently moving their chess pieces across the board to set up a final checkmate on the big-label recording industry, which will in turn, squeeze competitors like Spotify in ways they will have difficulty combating.
In my recent article Taking Siri Seriously, I made the comment that if Apple was releasing a Siri-equipped speaker product into the world, then it would surely be a sign that all is now right with the world’s first mobile digital assistant. They wouldn’t make another “Maps” error. They wouldn’t blindly release another product like that into the world. As the afterglow of yesterday’s WWDC Keynote fades and the reality-distortion dissipates, now I’m not as convinced.
Apple’s massive 2 1/2 hour data dump certainty accomplished goal one of flipping the media’s script yesterday. ALL of the talk today is about what Apple is doing and how they are doing it. They absolutely NAILED that. However, at the end of the day, what did we really learn about Siri in iOS 11?
The iPad has been at a crossroads for a couple of years now. Since the original iPad Pro didn’t move the sales needle, it has felt a little like Apple has been marking time while they came up with a Plan B on how to jumpstart things. Part one came with the release of the rolled back, but less expensive iPad this Spring. While it was a solid device that fit a need in Apple’s tablet lineup, it was hard to tell too much based on such a modest start down a different path.