News of Apple’s latest Siri/AI/Machine Learning acquisition has been making the rounds this week. The most recent lucky new company, Inductiv, was developing systems to identify and remove errors in data sets to make machine learning and AI analysis easier. That was then. Now they are Apple’s latest acqui-hire.
According to a report at Bloomberg, the Inductiv staff have already been integrated into teams working on Siri and other machine learning and AI tasks. That’s great and all, but it’s also a very familiar story with Apple. This is just the latest in a growing line of AI-focused companies that they have absorbed. Recently there was NextVR. Before that came Turi, Silk Labs and Pullstring. And don’t forget Apple poaching John Giannandrea from Google a few years ago.
So Apple has been collecting companies and hiring some impressive staff in the areas of AI and Machine Learning. However, I can’t help but wonder when all of these moves will make a significant difference in Siri. I can’t say that I haven’t seen any improvement of the AI and Search features that fall under the Siri umbrella. However, I don’t see that same level of improvement in the voice search side of Siri that we all know so well.
I like to think I’m a realistic Apple fan. I have never expected the company to flip a switch and suddenly make Siri great with an all-new version 2.0. However, what I have been expecting is gradual improvement over the last two years. I really haven’t seen that. Siri’s voice search isn’t terrible all of the time, as I usually have success with the easy stuff like making calls, relying to texts with simple messages and playing playlists. However, if I try to do anything more complicated, it usually doesn’t go well. And that’s if I’m actually trying to talk to Siri.
Will we ever see this shift? Will Siri start moving forward in a way that we will actually notice? Can Apple integrate the talent that they’ve steadily been acquiring over the last three years in a way that makes a difference? I have to be honest in saying that I’m not sure anymore. I am disappointed that we see so little evidence of progress and forward momentum after all of Apple’s investments in these areas. It doesn’t inspire confidence.
With so many of Apple’s products moving toward smaller form factors that don’t include keyboards, I can’t believe that there isn’t more focus on the voice side of Siri. The HomePod, AirPods, Apple Watch and Apple’s coming glasses would especially benefit from better built-in, native voice search. Unfortunately, the first three devices definitely suffer from a lack of it today.
Over the last two years, I’ve seen Apple’s acqui-hires and staffing moves as evidence that they understood their previous mistakes. They didn’t take AI and Machine Learning seriously as soon as they should have. They didn’t capitalize on their lead with Siri and ended up well behind the competition. It’s been looking like they were making the right moves to start closing the gap. However, there are still missing pieces that seem to be holding Apple back.
One positive- WWDC is right around the corner. Hopefully Apple will have something good to show us in this year’s online-only event. Maybe we will see some significant changes to Siri that go beyond the way the digital voice sounds. Maybe they will introduce some game-changing AI tech. Whatever they show, Apple will face an uphill battle to gain credibility in AI and Machine Learning because of how mediocre they have been up to now. It’s high time for less talk and more results.