In Ap­ple’s next ecosys­tem, Siri is the glue

Ev­ery tech ecosys­tem needs one key fea­ture to tie it to­gether, and it looks like Siri is Ap­ple’s next pri­or­ity, ar­gues Dan Moren

Macworld - - Opinion -

It’s al­ways been about the ecosys­tem for Ap­ple. The com­pany started out mak­ing its own hard­ware and soft­ware, and – with brief ex­cep­tions like the late, not-ter­ri­bly-lamented clone pro­gram in the ’90s – it’s only aimed to bring more and more of what it does un­der its di­rect con­trol.

As the com­pany moves into its fifth decade, its eyes are firmly planted on the fu­ture of that

ecosys­tem. If the ’70s and ’80s were about the PC, the ‘90s about the rise of the In­ter­net, and the 2000s and 2010s about con­sumer tech­nol­ogy and the mo­bile rev­o­lu­tion, then the 2020s are poised to be less about the de­vices we use and more about the seam­less ecosys­tem that per­vades ev­ery part of our lives.

Ap­ple will, of course, still be bring­ing its par­tic­u­lar mix of hard­ware, soft­ware, and ser­vices to bear on this next phase of tech­nol­ogy, but there’s one el­e­ment in par­tic­u­lar that stands to be the glue bring­ing all of it to­gether. Some­thing that can po­ten­tially turn a dis­jointed gag­gle of de­vices into some­thing that’s more than just the sum of its parts.

And that is Siri.

Siri ev­ery­where, but not ev­ery­thing

Siri’s al­ready po­si­tioned to take on this most im­por­tant of roles. The vir­tual as­sis­tant is one of the few pieces tech­nol­ogy that cuts across all of Ap­ple’s de­vices: iPhone/iPad, Macs, Ap­ple TV, Ap­ple Watch, and, pretty soon, the HomePod. Even Ap­ple’s pop­u­lar AirPods work as a con­duit to Siri.

More to the point, Siri isn’t just, well, Siri any­more. In ad­di­tion to the agent you talk to – and who talks back to you – Siri has be­come Ap­ple’s catch-all for a va­ri­ety of in­tel­li­gent tech­nolo­gies de­signed to pre­dict how you want to use your de­vice: what apps you want to launch, what things you want to search for, even what you want to say. It’s all part of Ap­ple’s very as­sis­tant-like at­tempt to help you fig­ure out what you need be­fore you know

you need it. Per­haps the most prom­i­nent ex­am­ple of that is the Siri watch face in the up­com­ing watchOS 4, which dis­plays con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion and con­trols de­pend­ing on your time and lo­ca­tion.

So, Siri is avail­able to us via pretty much all of our de­vices, and it reaches deep into the op­er­at­ing sys­tems that run them. But it’s not yet taken the step that will turn it from a fea­ture into a gamechang­ing way for us to in­ter­act with tech­nol­ogy. In or­der for that to hap­pen, there are still a few steps along the way.

Chief among them: Even now, al­most six years af­ter Siri’s ap­pear­ance on the iPhone, I

still some­times feel as though I’m deal­ing with a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent Siris, rather than one sin­gle vir­tual as­sis­tant. And, weirder yet, each of these Siris seems to have no idea that the others ex­ist. I can’t ask Siri on my iPhone to pull some­thing up on my Ap­ple TV. I can’t ask Siri at my Mac to send some­thing to my iPhone. (There have been some im­prove­ments over the years: Hey Siri, for ex­am­ple, mainly only seems to trig­ger on one de­vice these days.)

Ap­ple’s made an end-run around some of these fea­tures by en­abling smarter sync­ing be­tween de­vices. For ex­am­ple, di­rec­tions you search for in Maps on your Mac might show up in the Maps app on your iPhone. Or a show you start watch­ing on your iPhone may be marked as half-watched on your Ap­ple TV. These types of in­ter­con­nec­tions are be­com­ing more and more preva­lent, but Siri of­ten re­mains bliss­fully un­aware.

Fu­ture talk

In this fu­ture ecosys­tem, Siri may very well evolve into the ul­ti­mate Ap­ple prod­uct, a sort of uni­ver­sal OS that doesn’t care what kind of de­vice or in­ter­face you’re us­ing. It’s no sur­prise, then, that a re­cent fresh­en­ing up of Ap­ple’s ex­ec­u­tive bio pages re­vealed that Siri is now un­der the purview of Craig Fed­erighi’s soft­ware team rather than Eddy Cue’s Ser­vices di­vi­sion.

In the lead-up to iOS 11 re­lease, Siri’s also got­ten a bit of at­ten­tion – but not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause of what it can do. Yes, there are some new tricks that

the vir­tual as­sis­tant can trot out in the up­com­ing ver­sion of iOS – for ex­am­ple, it can now han­dle trans­la­tions be­tween lan­guages – but Ap­ple’s clearly been fo­cus­ing on the im­prove­ments it’s made to make Siri’s voice more nat­u­ral.

That might seem less ex­cit­ing than broad­en­ing Siri’s fea­ture­set or of­fer­ing in­te­gra­tion with more apps, but it’s still im­por­tant in its own way: the more that talk­ing to Siri is like talk­ing to a real per­son, the more likely peo­ple are to use it. When you don’t have to care­fully for­mu­late ex­actly what you’re go­ing to say, it makes the vir­tual as­sis­tant that much more ef­fec­tive. And that’s one step closer to mak­ing Siri an as­set – a true as­sis­tant that you can rely on to do the tasks that you used to have to turn to a de­vice for. Siri, in the end, will be the face to the name­less as­sort­ment of gad­gets and tech­nolo­gies that make up your every­day ecosys­tem

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