Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Apple announced upgrades to its digital assistant, Siri. To begin with, Siri will be available on the upcoming Sierra version of the Mac desktop operating system, macOS (formerly known as OS X). Mac device owners will be able to use Siri to search the Web as well as files on their computers. Developers will also now be able to access the digital assistant to integrate it with their services and applications.
Apple acquired Siri in 2010 and incorporated it into the iPhone in 2011. It was subsequently launched on the iPad and Apple TV, but until now has not been available on the company's computer operating system. Mac computers had a voice-to-text function that allowed users to dictate messages, they just didn't have access to Siri.
The bigger gap for Siri has been its inaccessibility to third-party developers to incorporate it into non-Apple apps on iOS, but this has now been addressed. To date, Apple had agreements with a few service providers such as Yelp, but widespread access to third-party app integration was long overdue. Amazon's Alexa Voice Service has already been enhanced with more than 1,000 skills for its Echo digital assistant — these are capabilities developed by third-parties which tap into functions in their apps or websites. Echo users can order taxis and check the weather (see Alexa Gets Stuffed in a Matchbox).
Apple's developments with Siri feel reactive, but acknowledging a problem is the best first step. Siri has fallen behind Amazon's Echo, and it now also needs to catch up to Google Now, Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana.
Siri will likely gain attention thanks to the announcements made at the event, which should allow Apple to make up some lost ground. The digital assistant has become a sort of modern celebrity, known to millions of people around the world, but it's also known to frustrate some users. Siri could start entering the home via Mac computers in July 2016. It will see its role on Apple TV expand as Apple brings its HomeKit to the device, and will grow with more mobile apps soon after. CCS Insight also predicts that Apple will eventually deliver a stand-alone device like Amazon's Echo or Google's Home.
As user interfaces move beyond touch screens, digital assistants are starting to become a new type of platform. No company is beyond disruption, not even Apple.