As regular readers will know, I’m a long-time fan of Siri. It’s my default way to interact with my iPhone: from checking the weather forecast through opening apps to dictating text messages. It was the sole reason I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the 4S back in the day.
At the same time, I’ve also long wanted Siri to do more. Last month, Apple finally granted the request I made last year: to give her access to third-party apps. But I was also hoping then for more – much more – while Apple seems to be content to expand Siri’s capabilities at a relatively leisurely pace.
Many of Siri’s original developers, it turned out, had also grown frustrated at Apple’s apparent lack of ambition for the intelligent assistant. They wanted to proceed at a much faster pace, and finally parted company with Apple to develop a next-generation assistant, Viv. The demonstration they gave back in May seriously impressed me, and I said then than Viv was what Siri should always have become …
I was hoping that Apple would eventually buy the new company just as it did the old. Those hopes have now been dashed: Viv has instead been bought by smartphone rival Samsung.
It’s not clear at this point why the Viv team agreed to be acquired. Both Google and Facebook made approaches to the company earlier this year, but those discussions came to nothing.
It appeared at that point that the development team might be wary of their previous experience of having their ambitions constrained by a large company, and wanted to continue doing their own thing. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey had invested in the company, so it likely wasn’t short of funds.
But for whatever reason, the deal has been done and Apple has lost its chance to bring back the team responsible for Siri, and the team that could have been responsible for a very much more intelligent next-generation Siri.
I do think that’s bad news for Apple. Viv appears to already have capabilities that I’d love to see in Siri, and an acquisition would have been a fast way to integrate those abilities into the product.
But I don’t think it’s disastrous news. While a third of the original Siri team left the company to work on Viv, two-thirds of it may still be in place. And there are of course many other people within the company hard at work on further developing Siri’s capabilities.
The AI talent pool is now a large and growing one, and Apple has long been making hires and acquiring companies in the field. Apple is on record as saying that Siri is already being transformed by machine learning, with ‘a deep neural network‘ replacing its original call-and-response approach.
So I’m confident that Siri will, in time, be able to do the kind of cool things Viv can do today. It’s just a shame that we’re probably going to have to wait a little longer than might otherwise have been the case.