Nobody puts Siri in a Corner: Why We might not See an Echo-like Device from Apple

The pressure is on for Apple to catch up with Amazon and Google and deliver a dedicated home device for Siri. Or at least, this is what the current narrative would like you to think about how Apple is positioned in the race to the AI promised land.

With Siri soon to be on the Mac as well as on Apple TV, the iPad, the Apple Watch and, of course, the iPhone, Apple is making sure users are never too far from being able to search a file, ask for a movie, dictate a message or inquire about the weather. While all these devices might not have the super power Alexa is granted by having seven microphones all in one place, they are also not meant to be static in our home. Bottom line, Siri is always next to me, no matter if I am at home or not.

I have discussed in the past the challenges Amazon has as it faces taking Alexa outside the home but the key point in my view, as we look at the different approaches vendors are taking with these devices, is to decide if we need a personal assistant or a shared one.

While we have been talking about personal assistants, the level of “personal” they perform seems to vary. In the promotional video for both Echo and Home, the devices, and therefore the assistant within them, are accessed by a family — which makes Alexa and Google assistant look more like Mary Poppins than Jarvis.

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When we look at Amazon and Google’s main business and how assistants fit in, a clear distinction between personal and shared does not seem that necessary. Very simplistically, the whole family should shop and the whole family should search! Yet, when we look at Apple, everything screams personal because that is what they make and want to sell: personal devices. Let’s be honest, sharing, specifically from a personal/consumer perspective, has never really been easy on Apple’s devices whether we are talking about forwarding a calendar invite in iCal or sharing a purchase in the App Store. Of course, where there is a will there is a way and users have managed to find ways around most of these limitations to share with other family members. Finally, with iOS 8, Apple made it easy to share content through individual accounts belonging to a family unit. In an ideal world, Apple sees everyone owning their own Apple devices. When I think about it this way, and because of the intense focus Apple has on user experience, I tend to believe they will opt for a very personal “personal assistant” vs a shared one. That personal assistant might draw from others in the home but the value it delivers will be to me specifically.

I do not necessarily think one approach is better than the other. Personally, I think that, similar to how we use calendars, we might want a personal and a shared one. Furthermore, I believe the shared one should have different degrees of access for people who might be present in the home at different times, like a babysitter or a grandparent. When you start to think about the assistant in the context of home access, it is also interesting to see how differently Apple is positioning its devices compared to Amazon. Apple positions the iPhone, the Apple TV and the iPad as home remote controllers that are smart and secure vs Amazon that allows Alexa to be tapped into by different devices. For the user, the final result is the same: switching off the lights, closing the garage and so on. The way they get there is very different and has implications on how consumers will see, not just the assistant, but also the brand behind it. Again, no right or wrong, just a different approach and one that will likely see Alexa branching out much faster but lose some identity while Siri might move more slowly – a lot might depend on how quickly Home will develop – but will always bring the user back to Apple.

The one device vs. many devices also raises the question of how you can handle a household or an office where different people access their own device with the same prompt. Of course, once voice recognition kicks in we will be OK because my Siri, Cortana, Google, Alexa will only respond to me. But in the meantime, how do I stop my Siri from answering someone else’s questions or, even worse, share personal information with someone else? This does not happen very often today because public usage is still limited but it will certainly be a concern over time.

These are many questions that do not have easy answers and it’s certainly not a case of one size fits all. Voice is personal and so are the kinds of interactions vendors are expecting us to exchange with these assistants.

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Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

975 thoughts on “Nobody puts Siri in a Corner: Why We might not See an Echo-like Device from Apple”

  1. [Blank] puts features and enhancements in its devices to sell more [blank].

    Google . . . . ads.
    Amazon. . . . stuff.
    Apple . . . . Apple devices.

  2. Very nice article, Carolina. I initially misread your headline and thought you were arguing that Apple WOULD be doing an Echo-like device. Instead, your thoughts align with mine.

    My knee-jerk reaction was to think that Alexa was a terrible idea. But I see many, many tech-savvy people who absolutely love it.

    Still, I can’t see Apple making one. They have an Alexa in your pocket and on your wrist. To create yet another device would be a loss of focus — an admission that they had no vision of what the world should look like in five years.

    Kudos to Amazon. They surprised me and a lot of others with their Alexa success. But let’s not go overboard here. If Apple had made Alexa, it would have been considered to be a total flop. After all, the Apple watch sold far more units and made far more money, but the pundits — for no reason at all — have deemed it to be a flop.

    Right now, Apple own the premium sector of the “with you” computing devices. I think Apple pictures the future as people having devices on them. It will start as the watch, but I can also see sensors being applied to the skin and even inserted beneath the skin. But that’s for a far off time. For now, I believe Apple wants their customers to move towards devices that are always with them or always on them. And the Echo is not that device.

    1. Amazon Echo total sales estimates are around three million, in a year and a half. While some people do love them it is hardly a hit with consumers. I think as long as I can talk to my TV via Apple TV, that’s enough for a non-mobile device. Siri should be mostly mobile. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a lower cost Siri accessory, something you could plug in by your bed maybe, stick one in the bathroom perhaps, but I do tend to think a mobile accessory would be better. Who doesn’t want a Star Trek communicator badge?

  3. I like “Nobody puts Siri in a Corner.” It is a comment on Siri’s ubiquity, actual or intended, but is also a pouty rejoinder. She is not a fixture, like a vase with a hidden microphone, but a spirited maid or butler everywhere at once, dusting the furniture, arranging dinner, dispensing Jeeves-like wit and wisdom. I imagine her the daughter of an Irish Traveller and a Persian princess. Hey, tech was once exciting, and it can be again once we flesh out the bots, and meaningful social interactions replace I/O operations and stack overflows.