Siri Opens Up

When Apple bought the Siri personal assistant in 2011 for use in its iOS system it seemed to revolutionize the tech world. Since that time, however, there has been a growing chorus of criticism about how Apple has handled the feature. Among the problems cited by users and members of the tech community: limited functionality, patchy voice recognition technology, difficulty dealing with follow-up questions and an Apple privacy policy which limits Siri’s ability to personalize itself to individual users.

Since its launch Siri has also suffered from stiff competition from other personal assistants with fewer limitations and a more open architecture. In 2014, Amazon launched the widely lauded and increasingly popular Echo speaker, which it paired with a Siri-like personal assistant called Alexa .

Google has turned in the same direction with a planned launch of Google Home, an Echo like device, powered by Google Now, which will include some of the features Siri has lacked (ease of dealing with follow-up queries, compatibility with home devices like thermostats, etc). Even Facebook is getting in the game with its M personal assistant.

Well, yesterday Apple finally took action to address the perceived gap between Siri and her PA competitors. They’ve announced serious upgrades to Siri’s functionality. She’ll be available in the new macOS Sierra, where Mac users will be able to do things like search files and drag results into open windows. Want that vacation photo added to a Word document? Simple now, according to Apple. Upgrades to the Homekit suggest that Siri will more easily control supported home devices.

By far the biggest news in this front, however, is the announcement that Apple will be opening up Siri to developers through an API. Amazon’s Alexa proved so popular in large part because of this feature. Many 3rd-party Alexa-powered smart home technologies, such as smart fridges and smart security systems, are available, with more to come later this year. Also, through the Alexa Skills Kit developers have created more than 1000 “skills” which allow Alexa to interact with other apps.

Apple’s decision opens up Siri to at least some of these possibilities. During the WWDC Siri was shown sending WeChat’s, Slack messages and even ordering an Uber. While the full implications of these changes is unknown it’s clear that an open Siri will give developers expanded opportunities in the enormous iOS market, give users a wider variety of options and give Apple a fighting chance in the increasingly crowded market of PAs.