How Verizon Almost Put Siri On Every Android Phone Back In 2009

Apple Siri event

Siri wasn’t always baked into iOS. It started out as a standalone iPhone app that launched in the App Store almost three years ago. Three weeks after it went live to the public, Apple showed interest. Siri was bought by Apple a few weeks later for hundreds of millions of dollars. The personal assistant was then reborn in the iPhone 4S in October 2011.

Many don’t know the fascinating history behind Siri, like the fact that it started as a research project for the U.S. Defense Department, or that Steve Jobs personally spearheaded the acquisition. Apple is lucky it swept in when it did, because Siri was almost made a default app on Android.

The Huffington Post has a great, in-depth article on the history of Siri, and there are some juicy tidbits concerning the product’s early days. The AI was inspired by HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s A Space OdysseyDag Kittlaus, the Norwegian sci-fi novelist who made millions selling Siri to Apple, saw the technology while it was still a DARPA project aimed to assist military personnel. Kittlaus turned the ideas from DARPA into a startup with two other co-founders, and they started working on the original Siri iPhone app. It launched in the App Store at the beginning of 2010.

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Siri’s three co-founders from left to right: Adam Cheyer, Dag Kittlaus, and Tom Gruber

In February 2010, three weeks after Siri debuted as an independently developed iPhone app, Kittlaus received a call from a mystery number — one he nearly missed thanks to a glitchy, unresponsive iPhone screen.

It was Steve Jobs and he wanted to meet. The next day.

Siri’s co-founders spent three hours with Jobs at his Palo Alto home discussing the future of do engines and how people could converse with machines (Jobs loved Siri’s snark). Apple quickly followed up with an interest in acquiring the young company.

“The way that Steve described it, speech recognition — and how to use it to create a speech interface for something like the iPhone — was an area of interest to him and Scott Forstall [then head of Apple's mobile software] for some time,” recalls Kittlaus. “The story that I’m told is that he thought we’d cracked that paradigm with our simple, conversational interface.”

The original Siri app connected to over 40 online services, like OpenTable and Yelp. Since Apple has come into the picture, it has taken much longer for new services to be integrated. So it goes when you’re dealing with the most valuable tech company on earth.

Many complain that Siri doesn’t live up to expectations, but imagine how things would be different if Siri had ended up being an Android-exclusive feature:

In the fall of 2009, several months before Apple approached Siri, Verizon had signed a deal with the startup to make Siri a default app on all Android phones set to launch in the new year. When Apple swooped in to buy Siri, it insisted on making the assistant exclusive to Apple devices, and nixed the Verizon deal. In the process, it narrowly avoided seeing Siri become a selling point for smartphones powered by its biggest rival, Google. (Somewhere in the vaults of the wireless giant, there are unreleased commercials touting Siri as an Android add-on.)

Siri’s three co-founders and their 20+ person team moved to Cupertino after the acquisition. Now only one co-founder remains at Apple, Tom Gruber. Dag Kittlaus left right after Apple re-introduced Siri in 2011, and co-founder Adam Cheyer left in the summer of 2012. A recent Apple job listing revealed that the company is looking for talent to make Siri more witty and conversational.

Make sure to check out The Huffington Post’s full story on Siri. It’s a must read.

  • hic9582

    Thank God siri didn’t go on Android phones. I can’t imagine having such an awful virtual assistant on hundreds of millions more phones. That sounds like a nightmare

  • Andrew Newsome

    Thank God siri didn’t go on Android phones. I can’t imagine having such an awful virtual assistant on hundreds of millions more phones. That sounds like a nightmare

    You can just turn it off

  • dcdevito

    Google Voice Search + Google Now put Siri to shame.

  • daov2a

    Yes, this would have been awful. This has very little to do with Google/Android and more to do with Verizon. Likely, a Verizon software engineer would have outsourced his job working on Siri for Verizon to China…Yeah, that would have been bad.

  • yourbrotherrex

    Didn’t the author mean to say “Android” throughout this article?
    It says Verizon was going to use it on their whole line, all of which are not “Droids”…(It bugs me to no end when that’s misused…)

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a staff writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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