As long as Apple keeps its stance on privacy, Siri won't transform overnight

Apple's commitment to privacy is a double-edged sword

Why Siri is running a marathon, not a sprint

Another WWDC has passed, and with it another moment where Craig Federighi failed to flourish those magnificent eyebrows and say, “Yes we know Siri is bad, so here’s that complete overhaul you’ve all been asking for.”

Apple did announce a couple of new tricks for its voice assistant that will make it appreciably more useful – especially for HomePod users. The biggest being Shortcuts, which will integrate Siri into third-party apps and offer more useful suggestions throughout the day. So Siri’s brain got a little bigger at WWDC, but it’s still far behind the competition.

Read this: Essential HomePod Siri commands

The Cupertino company didn’t give Siri the big revamp we've long been hoping for, and the truth is that probably won't happen as long as it remains so committed to privacy. Apple’s decision to prioritize user privacy has become a double-edged sword. While it's protected the company from some of the scrutiny being levied at Facebook and Google, it’s also stunted Siri’s growth and allowed competitors to leapfrog.

Google and Amazon feed your personal data into their big machine learning engines, which is one of the reasons why Assistant and Alexa have improved at a faster rate than Siri. Apple instead uses what's known as differential privacy, whereby random noise is mixed in with the data it collects to mask individual entries. Information is collected en masse, but your personal interactions with Siri remain private to your device.

With Shortcuts, there are certainly some questions around how third-party apps may or may not be able to collect some of this data about you, but Apple's differential stance remains unchanged, and at WWDC it doubled down on privacy with new software controls, not to mention some Facebook trash-talking.

Yet at the same time, Apple's current aggressive hiring on Siri goes to show how important it sees it to be. Particularly interesting was news that Apple recently hired John Giannandrea, Google’s former AI chief, reportedly to close the gap between Siri and its rivals. That'd be quite the challenge for Giannandrea, and things may get trickier as Apple tries to find this balance between privacy and progress with Siri.

The question is, how much does it matter that Apple is behind? When you’re one of the world’s biggest smartphone makers, you certainly have some time to play with. It will take time, but maintaining a positive stance on privacy will pay its own dividends. Yes, it can be easy to be cynical when Apple gets on stage and talks about wanting to protect your privacy, but this will matter in the long run.

Siri is getting on seven years old, but it's time to stop hoping for an overnight miracle. This looks like it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint.


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