July 17, 2017-
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Hey Siri, why can’t I use you on more apps?
Last summer, Apple was busy advertising its latest move to beef up Siri, the personal digital assistant for the iPhone, iPad and Mac computers. For the first time, Apple said, developers would be able to use Siri with our favorite apps, thus promising a brighter future for the heavily used, but often maligned, voice computing tool.
“Siri,” Apple said in September, when the latest iOS mobile operating system was released, “works with your favorite apps from the App Store.”
But fast forward to today, and it turns out few app makers have taken the bait.
Of the top 50 most downloaded apps in Apple’s App Store, only a handful are fully functional with Siri, a USA TODAY analysis found. They are ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, Whatsapp Messenger, Pinterest, Twitter and Yelp.
Missing in action: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google Maps, Spotify, Netflix — and many others.
Outside the top 50, Apple says Siri also works with popular apps like LinkedIn, Skype, Paypal, Square Cash and Venmo.
What happened? Many developers chose not to sign onto the software tools called SiriKit to integrate the assistant into the app because Apple only let Siri be used in six categories (since adjusted to nine) and “that knocked almost everyone out,” says Bret Kinsella, the publisher of the Voicebot.ai website, which covers artificial intelligence and voice computing. “It was just too restrictive.”
For instance, developers could code Siri into working with apps that made phone calls and ride-hailing, and visual search. “Hey Siri, get me an Uber (or Lyft)” results in Siri asking what kind you want (i.e. carpool, cheap ride), the time the driver will arrive and if you want to request it.
In contrast, photo-taking apps like Instagram, shopping apps, navigation and rivals to Apple’s Music app couldn’t participate. While Apple says Siri works with YouTube, the results are wanting: Ask Siri to play a specific YouTube playlist, it tells you it can’t find that playlist in your Apple Music. Ask Siri to play clips from the TV show Seinfeld (which are all over YouTube) and it takes you to a sign-up screen for Hulu. What Siri can do is this: “Hey Siri, find me videos of dogs.” Siri will say: “Here’s what I found on the Web,” and show thumbnails on the iPhone home screen.
Steven Sinofsky, a board partner with investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, said Siri didn’t see much “noticeable takeup” from developers due to its “overall reputation.” “It could also be that voice control is still too much of a gimmick, especially when your phone is attached to you,” he wrote in a recent Medium post.
Apple declined to offer comment for this story.
Slow uptake by app developers risks further denting Siri’s credibility, already bruised by the growth of Alexa and the ambitious advance of rival Google Assistant on Android phones and the Google Home speaker. Despite Siri’s early advantage (it was the first widely used digital assistant of its kind when it launched in 2011) and ubiquity (on over 1 billion iPhones), it’s long been the butt of jokes after it failed to improve to the degree users expected.
Its rivals have moved in, soaking up the time and attention of users.
Siri had an average 41.4 million monthly active users in the United States in May, according to a survey of 20,000 people by Verto Analytics, which monitors consumer behavior. That’s down 15% from the same period a year ago, when Siri had 48 million, Verto estimates.
At the same time, Alexa, starting from the far lower base, saw its usage increase 225%, from 0.8 million users to 2.6 million.
Siri still has a big lead over its rivals, thanks to adoption by iPhone. That’s given it a head start in loyalty, too: According to a survey conducted by SurveyMonkeyAudience for USA TODAY, when asked which voice assistant users couldn’t live without, Siri won hands down. Apple says Siri is used by 375 million folks monthly worldwide, and that it processes some 2 billion requests weekly.
But Siri is struggling as other assistants get smarter.
Comparing the responses of Google, Amazon and Siri, Google far out-paced both Apple and Amazon in terms of answers it was able to deliver in audio, a testament to the vast database Google can tap.
Apple’s rivals have also gotten developers on board where Apple hasn’t.
Amazon’s Alexa assistant, for instance, just crossed some 15,000 “skills,” that are available, from playing Jeopardy and picking up recipes from the Food Network, to the basics, playing the radio or podcasts on demand.
On Apple’s Siri web page, the company lists under 100 possibilities to use Siri, from setting calendar appointments, searching photos on Pinterest and booking rides on Lyft. (Coming in IOS 11, the new version of the mobile operating system, which will be released in September: translating phrases from five languages, reading QR codes and checking bank balances.)
Amazon aggressively is getting Alexa in more places than just the Echo speakers—this year we’ve seen it show up on new TV sets, a refrigerator and even an internet router.
Later this year, Siri moves to the living room as well, within Apple’s HomePod high-end audio speaker.
By not opening it up to as many different categories as possible, like Amazon and Google, Apple is showing that it wants to be good in a few areas, and isn’t willing to go much further.
“Siri isn’t going to get better and catch up to Alexa… unless she is permitted to fail,” says Kinsella. “That is why HomePod was all about the hardware.”
Siri has improved substantially since its widely panned debut, where it could do a few things correctly, and many not so good. But for many consumers who tried it a few times and were disappointed, they may have missed out on the changes.
Now, it’s a matter of managed expectations. Siri is a fine utility for setting appointments, handsfree phone calls, locating addresses of restaurants and little more.
Noah Rosenberg, the former CEO of photo app Pikazo, one of a handful of apps that launched with Siri integration in the fall, says Apple has an education problem.
“One of the challenges with Apple is they are very specific about how you could integrate Siri. There are very particular keywords to trigger. It works if you say exactly what you’re supposed to say, but how would you know that?”
For many users, after that experience, “it’s frustrating, so you just end up typing instead,” he adds.
With a speaker vs. a smartphone assistant, Apple could argue that it’s an unfair comparison, but at the end of the year, when the HomePod is released, Apple needs to have Siri be truly new and improved, says Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research.
“The bar is set pretty high for them to be a lot better on that device, than they are on the iPhone,” he says.
And with 16 million IOS developers as of June, 3 million more than the previous year, Kinsella doesn’t doubt that many will eventually start developing for Siri.
“This confluence of voice and AI is most important trend in the consumer space. It’s wide open and consumers really like it.”
Hey Siri, are you listening?
Source: USA Today
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