There’s a refrain about Apple that I keep reading over and over. Walt Mossberg played to it today. “Apple doesn’t get AI”. Nor does it get voice UI, with criticisms about Apple’s positioning in both typically focussed on Siri. There are variations on the theme of course; Apple is behind the 8-ball, privacy will impede Apple’s ambitions, the iPhone is dead and Amazon Echo will soon rule the world.
None are right. AI and voice UI, in the context of consumer electronics, is as much the future as the connected home is. It’s the next big thing and will continue to be promised as the next big thing for a years, if not decades, to come. Actual benefits from connected home platforms come about not just through software but through physical changes in the home, typically renovations. That’s why today, whether it’s Siri or Amazon Echo, the average consumer isn’t using either in a truly meaningful way. Nor are the majority of folk even attempting to, with the echo chamber of “Apple is doomed because of Siri” typically composing of technologists who want something which technology cannot yet offer.
Today we learn that Apple will soon offer a Siri SDK and complement it with an Amazon Echo rival dubbed HomePod. It’s a combination that takes Siri beyond the iPhone. You can already envisage that critics will lampoon HomePod: Siri not being good enough to make the product valuable. But Apple’s marketing team know this and will likly focus on other attributes (audiophile-nearing quality is an obvioouos one given this is one area competing devices are yet to nail)
But it’s more than just Apple’s marketing team that knows the short fall of Siri with Apple investing in various startups to shore up the strength of Siri;
Voice. Learning. Privacy.
Apple can do the first as well as anyone else, and have a data footprint to impact the second better than most. The third is where they’ll outstrip all others and it is where Apple’s true strength lies. The future of voice UIs in the home is not just about what the device can do, but how privately it does it. In this field, Apple is second to none. Voice UI is intrusive and consumers will increasingly come to feel that both Amazon and Google are data harvesting enteriprises. Apple will invest billions into proving that they don’t make money from data mining.
For the connected home, voice controlled AI is a killer interface. It’s simple and we all know how to use it already as it means largely replacing a physical action “turn on a switch” with the same verbal syntax. But you have to invite it into your home. Privacy and security will be massive considerations for consumers, and Apple tells that story best.