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Will Apple’s AI project bring it 1 step closer to Alexa? Is it time for a massive revolution?

Apple’s Siri has not gained too many fans over the years. Apple has been listening and changes could be coming.

Apple's AI plans for Siri

Date for your diary

Apple’s WWDC annual developers conference is set for June 5th. And it promises to be a monumental moment in the company’s history.

Rumours are suggesting it could be one of their longest keynote speeches as well at over two hours. In his weekly newsletter, yesterday Mark Gurman suggested that we will be getting MacBooks, new OS for TV, iPhone, iPad and Mac. A major overhaul is coming for watchOS with a sparkling new UI and he thinks we will see the mixed reality headset unveiled as well along with its OS.

Obviously, the headset will be the headliner, but the new OS could prove to quietly be where Apple seeds change for the years ahead.

Moment in the sun

It seems only a blink of an eye ago that blockchain and NFTs were catching all the headlines, but that just goes to prove how quickly the world of tech changes. As Bitcoin and blockchain recede into the background, AI is now the buzzword.

I first began to catch wind of the AI era last summer when OpenAI’s Dall.E began to make some waves. Since then the march of generative, that is clever AI has gathered pace with ChatGPT, Bard, Phind and Google’s Bixby all getting some attention.

Apple currently, seems oddly behind the curve with their AI attempts – namely Siri. It’s fair to say it has become something of a laughing stock, and even the most devout Apple devotees (of which I guess I am one), turn to it almost tongue in cheek. There is always that question at the back of your mind as to what it will come up with…

But, Apple is already using AI in many ways that are less obvious to power up some of their apps and features – I’m thinking of the system-wide Help menu and Spotlight search in particular.

But in a report, I stumbled across in the New York Times while researching this story, it looks as if Apple engineers are hard at work on their version of a language-generating program, similar to the one behind the likes of ChatGPT for example. And, according to 9to5Mac Apple is running an AI codenamed Bobcat in the next tvOS beta. So things are moving on at pace in sunny Cupertino.

Searching for the answer

So far, Apple has not gone full-bore into the search engine game. To date, they seem to be happy enough to let Microsoft & Google be the glory boys there.

But as I mentioned with Help & Spotlight search, Apple already has watered-down search engines, which is effectively what they are, at work. Surely though the time is coming when Apple start to do what they are known best for and innovate with Help & Spotlight – how far away are we from generative AI versions of them both?

How cool would it be to have a conversation with Spotlight rather than just type one-dimensional messages? Sure, our desktops and laptops have got easier to handle, but generative AI as a support tool is the next step.

I am having problems with some new software finding my Canon camera. To try to solve it I’ve gone through the online chat, and automated emails. I went online and found no answers. Eventually, I took to Twitter and reached out to the company. They have got back to me on DM…but what a ballache? If only I could have asked Spotlight and had a chat with it, about my Mac, and my system.

AI to go

The problems get worse when it comes to using Apple’s current AI bot – Siri – on say Apple Watch or HomePods. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve asked Siri for help only to be told that some websites have been sent to my phone to help.

What I’d like to see is a chat initiated with Siri…some banter, some back-and-forth. How far down the road is that reality from Apple I wonder? To be fair, Apple has improved Siri a little over the past few months and I’m getting less of the ”just a moment” replies. So something is going on, but how much and how soon will we see real, meaningful, wholesale changes, who knows?

As I mentioned, I came across this ‘Bobcat’ AI that Apple’s engineers are working on for tvOS, but what I don’t get, is what real use will it be for Apple TV? I guess being able to find, play or remind me about an upcoming series or movie is handy, but I can’t think of any other uses.

Unless Apple is carrying out a soft rollout with improved AI in our living rooms that is. Many Apple TVs are used with HomePods. Maybe the idea is that Apple TV will have its own generative AI – that would make some sense. At home, on the sofa where you have got time to have a conversation with AI. I’m thinking Apple is testing the water with their TVs and HomePods, learning all the while, gathering data before rolling it out on iOS etc. That would be very Apple wouldn’t it, and makes some sense now I think of it.

Siri one step closer to Alexa

Again, going back to a recent Gurman newsletter, it seems that Apple is working on another major re-work to Siri.

Mimicking Amazon’s Alexa, Apple seem keen to recreate the trigger-phrase demand from Hey Siri, to simply Siri. Immediately it makes it feel more natural and easy right? And dropping one word is not as simple as you may first think either. Gurman says:

“The company is working on an initiative to drop the ‘Hey’ in the trigger phrase so that a user only needs to say “Siri”—along with a command. While that might seem like a small change, making the switch is a technical challenge that requires a significant amount of AI training and underlying engineering work. The complexity involves Siri being able to understand the singular phrase “Siri” in multiple different accents and dialects. Having two words — “Hey Siri” — increases the likelihood of the system properly picking up the signal.”

As part of this same makeover, Apple is also looking for deeper integrations with third-party apps and services to provide better assistance thanks to additional context.

Time frame

As to when we’ll see all these changes coming to Siri is less certain though.

As I alluded to at the start of this blog, it’s possible that this June’s WWDC could be a seminal moment for Apple. Imagine if we were to not only get our first feel of what the headset is to be all about at WWDC but also find out that the latest OS updates are going to start to revolutionise our use of generative AI chat moving forwards within Apple’s ecosystem.

I know there were recent stories that this year’s OS updates, watch to one side, would be minor, because the headset had drained Apple of all available manpower, but Gurman did suggest that there “could still be surprises.

Wrapping up

I’m asking a lot, I know, but something in my gut is telling me that we are about to see some big changes from Apple and their AI technology.

Siri was one of the first to give us an insight into the AI dawn when it debuted over a decade ago. But now, in this new era of ChatGPT and OpenAI, Siri looks lost, feeble and unloved.

Apple has been too quiet for too long. They will see what’s going on, what the world wants and what the future is to be. I’m guessing Siri 2 – the Siri on steroids – the Siri we want is not all that far away!

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