Apple Siri will be More Intelligent and More Sensible to next Apple product launch.
At first blush, I’d say no. There was no moment where Apple CEO Tim Cook declared it the most important platform in Apple’s domain. Cook and SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi never ticked off all the Siri updates at once. There was no “Siri summary” screen.
But stepping back from it, I realized that Siri was everywhere in the roughly two-hour and fifteen-minute presentation. What we saw on Monday was next-level Siri.
The software started as a pretty simple voice assistant, then graduated to digital assistant. It is now nothing less than an artificial intelligence — one that can rain AI fairy dust on any number of services and third-party apps.
As predicted, Siri finally has an SDK — sort of. What app developers are actually getting is another Kit. These are like SDKs, but with a slightly narrower focus.
SiriKit offers what’s called Siri Domain access. Siri Domains are, in essence, a core set of Siri actions developers can tap into. They include:
- Phone calls
- Photo search
- Ride booking
- Personal payments
Some of these actions are fairly obvious. Others, like ride booking, make you wonder if they mean Uber and Lyft can access Siri functions or if any ride-sharing app can make Siri calls. Similarly, what’s the difference between personal payments and just plain payments?
SiriKit will also open up access to CarPlay, and some apps that can control in-car climate and the radio via the auto maker’s apps.
While none of this is super-clear, it’s fairly obvious that Apple plans on strictly limiting Siri access in the short term.
And SiriKit is for voice only. If you accept that Apple sees Siri as primarily a voice assistant, that’s the logical choice.
Still, Federighi made it clear on Monday that Siri is for more than just spoken interactions.
In Apple’s huge iOS 10 update, for instance, Siri’s “Intelligent Suggestions” inform the new QuickType, offering contextual suggestions based on information such as location, your calendar and contacts.
This Siri intelligence is activated by text, not speech. As far as I can tell, no SiriKit developer is getting that kind of access.
Taking on the intelligent competition
Apple rarely mentions the competition during developer keynotes, but Siri’s migration from mobile-only to the desktop is the equivalent of Siri delivering a glove-slap to Microsoft’s Cortana.
Like Microsoft’s digital assistant, the macOS Siri can tap into the OS, find documents and search for general information.
But Apple took the integration a step further than Cortana, allowing Siri results to truly come to life on the desktop, allowing for dragging and dropping and even pinning of Siri results.
Cortana results live in the Cortana box, and nowhere else.
Apple was a little less sure-footed when it came to taking on Amazon Echo and its digital assistant Alexa. Yes, there’s finally a Home app and, yes, you can use that app to control HomeKit-based devices through Apple TV. Apple TV is, finally, a smart home hub.
Unfortunately, it’s no smarter than, say, a Wink Hub. Even though Apple TV is connected to the biggest screen in the home, Apple has yet to create a centralized, on-screen Apple TV control panel for all your smart home devices.
As far as Apple is concerned, the best screen for managing your home devices is your iPhone. At least now there’s an app.
Opening the door
Siri’s intelligence and ubiquity are on the rise, but not all Apple artificial intelligence can be attributed to Siri.
As Federighi pointed out during the keynote: “We’re applying advanced, deep-learning techniques to bring facial recognition to the iPhone and it’s all done locally on the device.”
The ability to manage that kind of data processing on the phone, rather than in the cloud, likely came from Perceptio, a company Apple acquired last year.
According to Crunchbase, Perceptio was “developing ‘deep learning’ technology for smartphones, that allows phones to independently identify images without relying on external data libraries.”
The technology may or may not be tied to Apple’s other big AI idea, one that is also directly tied to user privacy: Differential Privacy, which Apple is using for the first time in iOS 10.
This feature pulls tiny bits of usage and device data, but deliberately injects each data bit with noise. So the system gets the data it needs (which it aggregates, then looks for patterns), while the noise acts as sort of one-way mirror — making it almost impossible for anyone to see back to the original data source.
Apple has yet to use Siri and Differential Privacy in the same sentence, but at some point down the AI road, these two are sure to meet.
A future star
Though Siri never had its moment at the WWDC 2016 keynote, its presence was felt throughout. Apple’s commitment to AI is crystal clear: Siri will live throughout its ecosystem and third-party apps will get to, for now, sip the sweet nectar of voice-driven artificial intelligence.
In the future, I suspect, they will get to drink more deeply — so long as Apple thinks it can simultaneously deliver cutting-edge AI and customer privacy in the same software.