These days Forbes and other digital magazines are filled with articles from ego driven contributors with opinions and perspectives on anything and everything, missives that are passed off as analysis. Recently there has been a splurge on such think-rot that Apple is in decline, that its problems are worse than you think (you have been thinking that, right? Just as BlackBerry and Nokia missed the revolution started by Apple’s iconic iPhone, Apple is missing the revolution in cloud-based artificial intelligence, data driven deep machine learning, and personal assistants. Ostensibly, Apple has none of that, no cloud presence, no database tools, and nothing that will keep Apple moving forward in the 21st century as the likes of Google’s Assistant, Facebook’s M, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana will rule an era of artificial intelligence everywhere.
Or, so the common story goes.
Allow me to set the stage for a simple rebuttal. When I was in college I took an argumentation and debate course. The instructor was a Matlock-like lawyer wannabe who gave at least one of his young students a lifelong gift. In formal debate, a topic is selected and debaters argue the pro and con in front of a judge or judges. To display exactly how that was done, our instructor asked us to pull topics from the official topic book and he would argue for three or four minutes– both pro and con, switching from one to the other with reasonable, plausible, forceful, and impressive support for first one side, then the other.
This event went on for the entire hour of the class, with half a dozen different and disparate argumentation and debate topics for which the instructor argued both pro and con. What I learned from that is one can argue for and against anything, but getting at the actual truth of a situation requires more effort than great oratory.
Now, back to Apple’s impending demise, due to an argument that goes something like this: the company just doesn’t have what it takes to compete with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, because Apple manufactures and sells hardware, and in the future of futures, all the important computing work will be handled by cloud-based artificial intelligence.
Quick. Can you name a technology company with more devices that run artificial intelligence than Apple? It’s not Amazon. It’s not Microsoft. Quick. Name a technology company with a larger commercial cloud presence than Apple? That’s where Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Google top Apple. Except for one thing. Apple is their largest customer. That’s right, Apple’s cloud needs are so large and growing so fast that the company cannot build out its own infrastructure fast enough and needs cloud storage from competitors. How will they feel when their largest customer goes away (which is happening already)?
John Markman, Forbes amateur contributor:
The Siri user experience on iPhone is much different than on Watch, Apple TV and Mac because other than branding, they’re not connected in any way. Siri’s function is fully determined by the compute power of the device and worse, it’s in a silo. This puts her at a huge disadvantage to her cloud-based AI competitors, which harness the immense capability of tens of thousands of servers.
That’s a common argument but it’s just wrong. Siri does not rely on the compute power of iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Siri’s responses, in data form, come from the cloud back to the device. Apple’s cloud. A cloud database so large it needs multiple cloud vendors to handle it all. Compare the 1-billion Apple customers with a Siri-enabled device to Amazon’s Alexa which is on a few hundred devices (it might be more; Amazon never says how many of anything they sell; numbers are mere guesstimates).
Siri will never be capable of answering complex questions or using context, and conversations are completely out of the question. So she compensates for her lack of understanding with trademark snark. While it’s cute in a sophomoric sort of way, it’s probably not a longer-term winning strategy. After all, you don’t hire assistants because they’re snarky. At some point they have to be able to do the job.
Obviously, Markman never compared Siri to the exact same questions asked of Alexa, Cortana, Assistant, Viv, or M or whatever else is out there. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but Siri fares well in comparison tests.
Also, any student of argumentation and debate would take issue with an absolute statement such as this:
Siri will never be capable of answering complex questions or using context, and conversations are completely out of the question.
Never is such a long time.
Please note, and only for purposes of argumentation, that Apple’s methodology regarding technology is different than Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or whomever because the iPhone maker does not announce much of what it is planning far in advance, and there are times when that makes the company’s efforts appear to be behind the times, at least until Apple leapfrogs the competition with something new, different, and obviously better (Mac, iPod, Apple Stores, iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad, Watch et al come to mind).
I understand. It’s the trendy thing to do to criticize Apple for being late to the party. Name a technology party where Apple was first in line? Personal computers? No. Media players? No. Retail stores? No. Music stores? No. Smartphones? No. Tablets? No. Smartwatches? No.
Get the idea?
That’s just not how Apple works. Arguably, more people use Siri as their artificial intelligence personal assistant than all the other so-called AI assistants combined (in debate, it’s fact until refuted), so isn’t it likely that Apple is collecting plenty of data about users, and doesn’t Apple’s new differential privacy technology indicate that the company not only can collect data in abundance, but is more responsible about using it than competitors?
Why are Forbes contributors not all over the latest from Google’s new way to push data collecting and actions to applications? Now that’s a story.