Reading the WWDC Tea Leaves for Siri, Mac and iPad

As I articulated earlier in the week, Apple’s focus on features that help us be more productive and efficient may not have been the most exciting when it comes to future and brand new things, however, there were some signals Apple gave us worth pondering about what the future may hold.

Where is Apple Taking Siri?
This was a question I was frequently asked by people on Twitter in the days following Apple’s keynote, as well as many in the media. Many of us hoped Siri would take a big leap forward and get closer to the smarts and reliability of Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. While Apple highlighted a few key statistics like Siri is the most used assistant, and how their assistant processes 10 billion requests a month, the reality is Siri may be the most used, but it is not the most liked assistant. That statement may sound harsh, but several different research studies we have done on all the AI agents continually confirms Siri leaves users more frustrated than satisfied.

Now, I don’t necessarily view that as the nail in the coffin for Siri. In fact, I’ve long argued, that the value of voice is so high that the fact they want Siri to do more is a good sign. Users of Siri see the value and immediately start trying to use it for more things, which is when they end up being frustrated when it doesn’t work the way THEY want, and THEY need. This last observation is the broader point that needs to be examined.

My colleague Carolina wrote a great post yesterday looking more deeply at this nuance. Her broad point is there is no single technology Apple makes where they can’t make decisions for the customer on how to use something than with Siri. Apple likes to make products where they make editorial decisions about what is good and what is bad. More often than not these decisions lead to quality and simplified experience where technology does not get in the way of what the user wants. Siri and digital assistants overall are very different beasts and the one area where Apple can’t define what should or should not be done by and for the customer.

This is where Siri shortcuts come in. As Carolina explained, this is where Apple will learn what Siri based shortcuts (workflows) power users develop and use those learnings to advance Siri’s capabilities. As simple as it looks to make a Siri shortcut, the cold hard fact, is most mainstream consumers will never use text or widget based editor to create a workflow. They will, however, use their voice.

Siri shortcuts build on the Workflow acquisition from a few years ago. Some of my favorite workflows, which I built using the Workflow app were quick launch buttons that send my wife my current location, tweet a specific link with a hashtag. Post a photo, with filter, onto Facebook. The premise here is automation. I spent the time to link common tasks together which would take me several apps and many steps into one simple button than when I press it, it runs the action and completes the sequence of events. Extremely useful, but not that easy to make.

I am 100% certain these automation events will be created and initiated entirely by our voices in the future. We won’t need a software UI to create these automated workflows, but rather just rattle off commands to Siri and it will execute. For example, I could say “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 minutes and when that timer goes off remind me water the garden, and pick the tomatoes, I need for dinner.” Or, “Hey Siri, text Jen my ETA and ask her if she needs me to pick anything up from the store on my way home.” Hopefully, you get the picture, but the broad point is how we will be able to use our voices, and Siri, to string together a set of automated tasks in ways we never could before. This not only saves us time, and adds to our efficiency and productivity, but this vision also speaks to Apple’s clearest concept for Siri as a true digital helper that works on your behalf to help you get things done.

Where is the Mac and iPad Headed?
Tim Bajarin dove into why enabling developers to easily bring their iOS apps to the Mac is a big deal for the Mac platform. In the days since, I’ve noticed the continued heated debate on whether Apple will bring iOS and macOS together (some don’t believe Apple’s blanket No statement) or that Apple will eventually make a touch-screen Mac. My conviction remains that Apple won’t merge iOS and macOS and won’t make a touch-screen Mac. Each of these devices plays a distinct role. The Mac focuses on power users and creators while the iPad is still largely used for entertainment and content consumption. As I articulated in The iPad’s Fate, we continually see no evidence the masses are doing more Mac-like productivity on iPad. Despite Apple’s best efforts to encourage more productivity use cases, consumers are just not shifting behavior.

When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPad, he made several statements which framed the iPad quite nicely. The first was he stated the iPad was the answer to the question on if a there is room for a device that sits between Mac and iPhone. Apple’s answer was yes, and it was iPad. A new question has arisen on if there is an opportunity for a new category that sits between iPad and Mac. Apple’s iPad Pro is a subtle shift in this direction, but I believe a brand new type of device may be up Apple’s sleeve.

It won’t be a touchscreen Mac, and it won’t be an iPad but something new entirely. Something fully capable of more content creation and productivity. And something that has all of the iPad’s benefits as well. I know what I’m suggesting is Apple’s version of the Windows OEMs 2-1 form factors, and I am sort of but not really. The promise of 2-1s was they were the best of both worlds. But in reality, the device is still a PC, but not the best PC nor was it the best tablet.

The iPad is also not the true promise of a 2-1 delivering the best of both worlds. This idea is what I think Apple is thinking about and, in my opinion, it could be a huge idea if executed well. My reading of the tea leaves, which includes Apple’s continued emphasis on their own custom chipsets (since this product would run an Apple, ARM processor) and Apple’s potential to bring iOS apps and powerful Mac apps together on one new device that supports touch, mouse, has a keyboard and detachable screen, and can fill the mainstream consumers needs for both entertainment and content consumption, and entry level Mac like productivity could be a huge idea and a gigantic new category for Apple. After all, ~250 million PCs (including Macs (20m)) are sold every year leaving an enormous upside hardware opportunity for Apple that the iPad has not capitalized on.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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