Every year for about the past decade or so I’ve watched Apple keynote presentations. Some contained surprises, a few were major events (iPhone, switch to Intel CPUs), a few were simply Keynote slides of either the obvious or the unexpected.
The most recent keynote presentation was a mixture of both expected and unexpected but also followed a recent trend which I’m going to tag as ‘Apple’s layers,’ defined as the company’s ability to layer in new technology each year so that the whole of the next few years is greater than the sum of the parts.
Siri is a perfect example of an Apple layer.
Voice recognition and machine learning, or, artificial intelligence, has been around for years, but few versions of the technology are available and used on more than 1-billion devices, most of which run the same version of operating system. That’s Siri and iOS 9.x.
Apple has taken some hits recently regarding its less than public stance on big data and artificial intelligence with some critics pointing out that other major tech players– notably Google, Microsoft, and Amazon– have advanced well beyond Apple and Siri, to a point where the company may not catch up.
That’s nonsense. Apple is there already.
The problem critics have is in comparing AI technologies from the backend. The front end is easy. Ask Amazon’s Alexa (on the Echo device, tethered to Wi-Fi and a power supply; which is so 1999) to buy paper towels and the AI can do so using your Amazon account information.
That makes Siri look bad. But that’s a single example of Alexa vs. Siri, and there are easily more examples where Siri makes Alexa look even worse. Alexa isn’t big on turn-by-turn driving instructions, or sending Messages on the iPhone, but the device is good at tracking what you do, where you do it, what you order online, and Siri pales at that.
What Apple appears to do is get technology advances into the hands of as many users as possible, then improve features and functions incrementally, before jumping forward again. Google’s whatever-it-is-called voice interface, and Microsoft’s Cortana may have been available to app developers long before Siri, but can anyone doubt that apps using Siri in the next year will be advances on the state of the art?
Apple layers technology advancements. Touch ID? It was available only on the newest iPhones, then a few iPads, then all iPhones, and now it’s faster than ever, with more uses because developers have access to functionality which can be embedded into their apps.
Apple is very good as the layered approach, one that requires discipline so as not to rush into the marketplace with quickly bolted on functions. Look how long it took to get cut and past into iOS, but when it arrived it was as good as it could be.
Maps is no different. That Apple decided to dump Google’s Maps backend (the front end came from Apple) should not have surprised Apple watchers. Google was not advancing the state of the maps art on iOS, preferring to upgrade Android Maps first. Not smart, Google, and Apple Maps was born. It was a rough birth but more iOS users use Apple Maps than Google Maps and both have competed to advance the state of the art.
We see similar discipline and layering at every level among Apple’s products. Watch is improved in many ways with watchOS 3. Apple TV gets much needed improvements from the original in tvOS. Even
OS X macOS Sierra benefits from an integration of technology from iOS. Siri on the Mac.
One item of note. Apple still hasn’t take a loud and public stance on privacy and security. The great masses of Android device owners don’t know how Google operates by culling their personal and private data like a stalker. While Apple has taken a stance on privacy and security, it’s not very loud. I think another layer is in the works, and that will improve both– privacy and security– that makes Google, Microsoft, and Amazon look like the digital thieves they are.