In 2011, Apple added its Siri voice assistant to every iPhone running iOS 5 and above, and Siri has since made its way into the entire range of Apple products.
Technically, Siri’s original developers should get credit here – many people still don’t know that it was actually a third-party iOS app just a few months before Apple acquired it, forcing plans to bring the software to competing operating systems , were discontinued like Android and Blackberry.
In response, we saw a veritable revolt from the world’s largest technology companies to try and compete. Microsoft introduced Cortana in 2013, Amazon Alexa joined the fray in 2014, Google with Google Assistant in 2016, and even more recently we’ve seen newcomers like Bixby and Baidu emerge.
However, as these applications duke it out, a new player has entered the field with an entirely different set of skills that could completely disrupt the voice assistant space; ChatGPT.
Find the difference
So let’s get the differences out of the way first. ChatGPT is an incredibly powerful chatbot with a human vocabulary backed by virtually unfettered access to information. Siri and other voice assistants, on the other hand, are programmed to be more binary, with set requests and responses they can understand.
If you were to ask ChatGPT for help with writing or troubleshooting, or even something more unique use cases, you will probably be surprised and delighted by the possibilities. Powered by the same technology, Bing can also understand more challenging questions, even if you’re talking about love.
ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, a company that – as the name suggests – allows its technology to be implemented by other organizations, rather than the closed-source proprietary technology found in Siri. This means that app developers can easily add ChatGPT to all sorts of interesting and exciting apps.
However, Siri would not be able to do the same. It’s great for task support, especially when boosted by shortcuts, and for quickly navigating through tasks hands-free on your phone.
However, it’s frustratingly limited in scope and struggles to handle more complex requests even when compared to Alexa, despite Apple’s best efforts to improve it over the years. Plus, I still have a bone to pick with how crappy the speech recognition can be.
Start with the program, Apple
Microsoft is now stealing the lead in the innovation race with Bing despite some early childhood illnesses, But Google is hot on his heels. While these are both advancements in the search engine space, it’s only a matter of time before eyes turn to voice assistants.
Siri is finally used for search – but despite having many years to iterate, search remains one of the most frustrating, clunky features.
Already enthusiastic users are creating ways to embed ChatGPT’s more advanced conversation processing in Siri. It’s far from perfect, and there are some natural, very legitimate security and privacy concerns on ChatGPT’s part here, but this eagerness to bolster Siri’s capabilities shows the potential for Apple to take advantage of this.
So, why is Apple dragging its feet?
Playing the long game
To me, there’s only one reason why a giant like Apple wouldn’t come along and retake the voice assistant market. Like the great tactician Cruella de Vil, Apple may just be bidding its time before striking to recapture the voice assistant market.
Apple made one numerous AI acquisitions we haven’t seen much in recent years, and despite a few minor rumors hinting that something could be coming, the tech giant has been characteristically reserved since the big Bing and Bard explosion.
I suppose Apple was always planning to release something, but I find it hard to believe that ChatGPT and Bing didn’t blindside it somewhat. After all, even Google seemed to be under a bit of pressure to get Bard up and running quickly in answer. This left Apple with two choices; hurry to join the race, or wait for the chips to fall. Apparently it chose the latter.
While Apple wouldn’t lose much by bidding its time, it could gain a lot if it came out with a Siri far more capable than anything else on the market – and looking at the wider Apple ecosystem and progress elsewhere in the tech space, it seems likely that the company hopes to start with a bang.
Take the smart home space, for example. This year, Matter, the software standard that powers smart home interoperability, is set to really make an impact in people’s homes. If Siri can make the jump on Alexa and Google Assistant, a more conversational and customizable Siri could shoot Apple Home into the lead. Think Disney Smart homebut without the murderous vibes.
We’re just a few months away from WWDC, Apple’s developer conference in California, an event where the company usually showcases its latest software updates (as well as launching an odd piece of hardware). By the time it rolls around, the dust will have settled somewhat on Google and Microsoft’s forays into AI. As long as Amazon doesn’t step in with its own major Alexa overhaul, this could be the perfect opportunity for Apple to step in and steal the spotlight – possibly even with a much more thoroughly thought-out AI.
Time will tell – but one thing is certain: slow and steady can win the race, but not if you never leave the starting line.