Don't Become the Siri of Your Sector
Apple's once-breakthrough technology has taken a back seat to rivals such as Amazon's Alexa. The company is paying a price for its go-it-alone, walled garden strategy.
Throwing shade on Siri sure seems like kicking someone when they're already down and out. Then again, criticism of this once-revolutionary technology is well-deserved and, more importantly, there are powerful lessons for entrepreneurs behind Siri's sad slide to irrelevance.
Industry tabulations of user installations dump Siri into the embarrassing "other" category - tens of millions behind major players Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung. Knowing the history and culture of Apple, management can't be happy having to market a clunky and sorely compromised voice solution. Yet it's hard to find a cogent explanation for Apple's apparent indifference to Siri having been reduced to an afterthought.
Now, I know that Apple has a few more major fires to fight right now (as do other Big Tech folks), but anyone who doesn't appreciate how absolutely crucial voice is going to be as the next systemic control-and-direction tool for our devices, homes and cars hasn't been paying attention. The number of searches triggered by voice continues to soar. In our cars, message dictation and responses are now being touted as safety measures. And in-home device direction (asking Alexa everything) is so massive that even the device providers haven't been able to get an accurate calculation of usage.
With ongoing antitrust inquiries by Congress and facing a very public legal assault by Epic Games as well, it may be somewhat difficult for Apple to focus much attention on Siri. Unfortunately for Apple, there really aren't other players in the space who can step in and help solve its problems and shortcomings. That void is not only Apple's doing; it's actually closely bound up in the investigations and lawsuits as well. No one can help or come to Apple's aid because no one outside of Apple is welcome in the closed garden that is Apple's world.
Interestingly enough, in some ways this isn't a new problem for Apple or a new lesson and warning for startups. Closed systems may enhance design simplicity and code coherence, but they're absolute death when it comes to rapid growth and expansion which - however elegant your tech may be - is no longer something that an individual company of any size can pull off.
Anyone who thinks that they are new enough, cool enough, big enough or powerful enough to go it alone in today's tech world doesn't appreciate the additive and incremental power of inviting the crowd to help you build, bolster, debug and exponentially expand your products and services. Loosely speaking, open source, shared code, strategic partnerships, and collaborative iteration and improvement are critical today to addressing the multitude of markets, platforms and devices that are being rushed to market in every area.
Decades ago, Microsoft creamed Apple in the desktop marketplace by making the early decision to essentially have its software ride on and work with anyone's hardware (eventually, even Apple's) rather than insisting that users exclusively use only Microsoft gear. Microsoft products still dominate the installed base of office software today across the world and - notwithstanding the early lead of Amazon Web Services (AWS) -- Microsoft's Azure cloud initiatives have continued to make significant progress.
In the global market for mobile operating systems, Apple is once again getting buried, but this time Google is beating out Apple's iOS. By the end of 2022, IDC predicts that Android devices will power about 87% of the global market, with iOS driving around 13%. While Microsoft/Windows was a factor a couple of years ago, it's no longer in the game. Blame former CEO Steve Ballmer for missing that boat big time.
Again, the many different flavors of Android and the hundreds of companies building on top of it provided six times the overall market opportunity in mobile and other voice-enhanced products that Apple's amazing-but-closed-off iPhones and iPads were able to capture. Walking around CES pre-pandemic and seeing Alexa and Android enabled refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, etc. was an early indication of just how much Apple conceded. As innovative as Apple claims to be, they have been very slow to innovate, even in their basic devices-- unless you think a purple phone is really special. Which is yet another reason why fixing Siri is so far down the project list.
The bottom line and the message for all - big and small - is pretty simple. You can't do much of anything at scale by yourself these days. You need to plan and build open products, services and systems that can take advantage of the skills, parallel objectives, desires, and resources of interested third parties. And you absolutely can't stand still and hope that no one notices, because the world and your competition will run right over you.
My guess is that, just like Apple eventually accepted and enabled Microsoft's Office products on its platforms, we'll be saying "Sayonara" to Siri and "Aloha" to Alexa on our iPhones someday soon. And remember that being on a device is only half the battle. If Amazon rather than Apple is accessing all the data, content and context related to voice usage of the phones (much like Tesla's 10-year edge in driver behavior data), the ability to build better, smarter and more responsive products and services will be a further edge in its global competitiveness.
I'm already running the Alexa app on my Apple and other home devices while Siri is still stuttering and stumbling over basic commands, stuck in the past.
JUN 2, 2021