Apple might give Siri a total makeover

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Siri Alexa in voice report
So selfless, that Siri.
Photo: Apple

Siri is in trouble. Apple’s AI assistant is way behind the competition, and a new report indicates that Cupertino’s coders can’t agree on how to fix Siri — or even if it should be fixed.

Anonymous sources, supposedly from inside the Apple development team, say there’s no strong vision of what Siri should be.

According to The Information, the problem is so severe that Apple can’t decide “whether to continue patching up a flawed build or to rip it up and start from scratch.”

Bugs and other problems reportedly began almost from the time Apple acquired the voice system back in 2010. Part of the problem was Siri’s instant popularity. The backend servers weren’t prepared for the demand coming from millions of iPhone users. The company has struggled ever since to make Siri’s code more efficient.

Siri: A lack of vision?

Siri was unveiled as the signature feature of the iPhone 4s in 2011. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died the very next day, and that turned out to be a long-term blow to Siri.

Jobs spearheaded the acquisition of Siri and the integration of the technology into iOS.

“When Steve died the day after Siri launched, they lost the vision,” one of The Information’s sources said. “They didn’t have a big picture.”

Since that time, multiple project managers have come and gone, none with Jobs’ vision. There’s allegedly an internal debate over whether Siri should be a system for answering short questions and following simple commands, or a more full-featured digital assistant capable of handling more complex queries.

Siri leaves HomePod in the lurch

At present, those who think Siri should be kept simple are clearly in the ascendancy, and the HomePod has borne the brunt of this strategy. While Apple’s $349 smart speaker garnered positive reviews for its appearance and audio qualities, many reviewers criticized its voice capabilities.

When the device was compared to Amazon’s Alexa, a much more capable voice-driven assistant, Apple’s offering clearly came up short.

No third-party buy-in

Siri problems
Siri problems have resulted in complaints about Apple’s HomePod smart speaker.
Photo: Apple

Although Apple makes great computers, third-party developers add tremendously to the usefulness of the iPhone, iPad and Mac. That raises the question, why hasn’t that happened with Siri?

Apple’s SiriKit framework offers a method for adding voice commands for messaging, lists and notes. But people can be forgiven if they’re unaware that SiriKit even exists. This system to allow outside developers to add functions to Siri hasn’t garnered significant interest because the software is “brittle and inflexible,” according to The Information’s sources.

Last fall, Apple put senior VP Craig Federighi in charge of the Siri division. Only time will tell if he can turn things around.