Once a competitive advantage, Siri now seen as liability for Apple

Siri’s perceived mediocrity is putting Apple’s smartphone leadership at risk. It’s also having a negative impact on sales of Apple’s smart speaker, HomePod, which received largely lackluster reviews because of Siri’s functionality (I mostly disagree).

An expos√© of sorts from The Information about problems with Apple’s management of Siri has been getting a lot of attention over the past couple of days. There’s a kind of “ah, so that’s why” reaction in some of the secondary pieces in the tech press.

The Information article cites a number of specific issues, challenges and problems within Apple surrounding Siri’s management and development. Among them:

  • The death of Steve Jobs in 2011.
  • Limited ongoing improvements, infrequent updates.
  • Internal finger-pointing and infighting among groups.
  • Challenges tied to integrating new technologies (from acquisitions) into Siri.
  • Lack of vision around Siri deployment (e.g., its late addition to the HomePod).

I wrote in January last year that improving Siri was no longer an optional thing for Apple and that it was critical to Apple’s and the iPhone’s long-term competitiveness. I suspect the need for this wasn’t fully clear to Apple until the mostly negative HomePod reviews hit last month.

Now, it probably is. Tim Cook will personally have to intervene, if he hasn’t already, to remedy internal management rivalries and operational problems and fast-track Siri improvements.

In my comparisons of Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, it’s clear that the Google Assistant has the greatest breadth and utility. But Siri isn’t that far behind. And most “regular people” don’t see Google Assistant as the clear leader vs. Siri today. But that could change in the near term.

Google is aggressively developing the Assistant across hardware devices in a bid for a kind of ecosystem lock-in that was once almost unique to Apple.

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