Apple Takes it “Siriously” with WWDC 2019

In the world of tech savvy gizmo geeks, it is more acceptable than ever before to chat with your voice assistant more often than with your actual friends

Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana have all made significant strides in the AI-driven voice app market so far. With the amount of information that we have placed at their disposal, they arguably know more about us than those we call our best friends. Yet, Siri, Apple’s much-loved voice assistant with a caustic sense of humour, has barely been able to keep up with the ever-expanding opportunities its rivals have managed to leverage. However, that is set to change with Apple's new strategy!

Despite Siri having lagged behind so far, it seems that the tech major is finally waking up to the need of making a “Sirious” mark in the voice app market, giving its scathingly sarcastic and sardonically humourous voice assistant a greater role within the Apple ecosystem. Possibly in a bid to counteract the dent in the company’s profit model from iPhone’s falling sales, Apple seemed to have devoted considerable attention to its smart home aspirations in WWDC 2019.

#WWDC19 Announcement

WWDC or the Worldwide Developers Conference usually marks the release of Apple’s most prized updates and in this year’s edition, the company made announcements regarding substantial improvements in Siri’s AI capabilities.

Till now, there have been few attempts on Apple’s end to match up to how its rivals are positioned to influence purchase decisions. For example, the role of Alexa’s expansive functionalities in boosting Echo sales is undeniable. However, in the case of Siri, only the Apple Homepod speaker can claim to be voice-controlled, that too with only limited voice-based management capabilities. In WWDC 2019, Apple announced the launch of multi user recognition for Siri, which would enable her to personalize music recommendations, playlist curation, and even reminders. While her rivals have embraced multiuser recognition long before this, Siri will finally be able to tell you apart from your friends and family with this new update.

This upgrade might not seem to be much, especially in the context of its competitors’ existing functionalities. Yet, it definitely represents a burgeoning desire on Apple’s part to penetrate into this crowded but highly lucrative market. Considering how the company often sparks off the famed “Apple effect” in most markets it decides to make forays into, it is highly likely that Apple’s Sirious moves in the voice assistance space will trigger an expansion of the very market in itself.

Another key update that was introduced in WWDC this year, the Neutral Text to Speech (TTS) software, is also supposed to make Siri sound more human than robotic, possibly infusing it with a more natural adaptability with the human world. Since Siri often falls short while responding to voice queries from users in natural languages, this upgrade is likely to make it that bit easier to communicate with. While a lot of people would possibly find it creepy to have Siri talk to them in a voice similar to that of their human acquaintances, I personally feel it would help Siri relate better to human needs and respond to them more appropriately.

Competitor Analysis

With Google Assistant topping the charts and Amazon Alexa catching up fast, the smart home voice control market seems to be heating up. Whether or not Apple succeeds in making the most of this opportunity will depend on how iOS 13 pans out when the user betas launch, and on what new plans Apple has up its sleeves to take the market by storm. Considering that it has experienced a 15% year-on-year fall on iPhone sales in the first quarter of 2019, the company must increasingly rely upon emerging technologies that go beyond the aging tricks of the trusted iPhone. While many Apple loyalists and tech enthusiasts are frustrated by how slowly Apple is adjusting to the new market, I, for one, am not ready to be disheartened already. While the first few years of the voice assistance technology saw a spate of third party integration announcements, 2019 is seeing slower, more cautious moves, as the companies ease into what the market really needs instead of succumbing to the rat race.

When it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence, Apple has proved its hand already. The tech giant’s music streaming app Spotify has been winning hearts with its superior customisation capabilities. Of late, it has turned its focus on harnessing the opportunities inherent in this field, having hired two of Google’s topmost AI/ML experts: John Giannandrea and Ian Goodfellow, to streamline the process of tapping into this technology. With new recruits and a fresh stance, it clearly seems keen to make the most of the avenues presented by the flourishing market.

Startup Acquisitions

Earlier this year, reports also surfaced, suggesting that Apple had acquired an AI startup called PullString, which specialises in assisting companies build voice apps compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Although Apple is yet to announce the acquisition formally or lay down a roadmap for the startup, it can be conjectured that they are looking to tap into the voice app specialization of PullString.

With all these developments in mind, I strongly believe that the near future will see more announcements from Apple in the AI-based voice assistance market, possibly even setting pioneering examples for competitors to follow. While its current offerings are limited and barely scratch the surface, I am sure of their ability to leave an indelible impression on the market soon enough.