Inviting Developers To Reshape Siri: Is Apple Desperate?

Apple has never been big on open systems. A product of Steve Jobs and his view that elegant design requires single-minded control, the company has always seen impenetrability as a virtue.

That’s why a report that Apple will open Siri to developers is such huge news.

Yes, maybe as early as next month, Apple reportedly plans to invite the app developer community to reshape its precious virtual assistant in their own image.

If accurate, the move would mark a major shift in Apple’s strategy, and strike many as a humbling about-face.

The fact is, however, that Apple is growing increasingly desperate as hardware sales stall, and rivals invest heavily in virtual assistants, AI, and other technologies that are together shaping the next generation of mobile devices. 

Siri is currently competing against Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, Facebook M, and Google Now. And those are just the established players. Among other mavericks, some ex-Apple engineers are already making waves with Viv, a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.

Leading up to this week’s news, a chorus of critics has taken turns attacking Apple and its lack of investment in new technologies. Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment went so far as to suggest that Apple was in danger of becoming the next BlackBerry.

Meanwhile, in a similarly unsettling development for Apple, the company appears to be playing catch-up in an area it has long dominated: mobile hardware. As Amazon’s Echo continues to gain traction -- and Google prepares to launch its own smart speaker, Google Home -- Apple is reportedly developing a similar device.

Late or not, entering the smart-speaker race is a no-brainer. By 2020, half of all North American households with broadband will boast smart devices, according to a recent forecast from Parks Associates.

This column was originally published in Moblog on May 25, 2016.

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