When Siri Becomes A Member of the Family

on November 3, 2011

Siri is much more than just a useful feature for Apple’s iPhone 4S. Siri is also incredibly strategic for Apple. I have written quite a bit on the subject of how software platforms become sticky. The point I continually emphasize is that we who study the industry need to understand “ecosystems” more than products. What I mean by that is that consumers, when they buy technology products, are moving from a product buying mentality to an ecosystem buying mentality – they just don’t know it yet.

Products by themselves are not sticky and have very little consumer loyalty. In terms of products, brand or lowest price is what keeps consumers coming back. But as we transition from personal to personalized computing, consumers will stay loyal to ecosystems more than simply brand or product, even though those play into the ecosystem. Think of these products as screens which allow consumers to tap into a rich ecosystem driven by software and services.

As I evaluate products, platforms, and companies’ strategies, I am looking for things that invite consumers into an ecosystem and then encourage ecosystem loyalty. This is essentially the root of differentiation going forward.

If we look at the platform as the basis for an ecosystem, then right now the companies with ecosystems are Apple, Microsoft, Google (with Android) and RIM. Some ecosystems are more fleshed-out than others, but as a baseline those are the four — for now.

The key to any of these companies’ long-term success is to continue developing innovations that keep consumers loyal to their ecosystem. When this happens, consumers are less likely to switch from one platform to another. For example, consumers who have invested time, money, and energy in Apple’s ecosystem are less likely to jump to Android for their next phone due to the high cost and inconvenience of switching.

This is why I think Siri is so incredibly strategic for Apple. Siri in my opinion is the first step in moving computing from personal to personalized — something that happens when your personal electronics learn and understand things about you without you having to personalize it yourself.

When you use Siri, even though it is in beta and in a very early stage of its life-cycle, you observe how it learns and remembers certain key things about you. Inevitably over time as Siri learns more about you and hits her groove as a true personal assistant, this feature will keep you loyal to Apple’s ecosystem.

Credit: AP
Imagine if over the period of a year or two, Siri has developed into a true personal assistant adding value all the way through task automation, discovery of places and events based on personal preference, geo-location assistance and more. After all the time you have spent living with Siri, who is learning quite a bit about you in order to be valuable, would you really fire her and go buy a different smart phone just because it is cheaper?

I don’t know a single executive with a personal assistant (who they often consider as a member of their family) who would fire that assistant just because he or she can find another one who’s cheaper. Rather, when you find a good assistant you hold on to them and stay loyal.

In fact, ask any executive what they hate most about hiring a new assistant and they will tell you it is the initial training process.

The same will be true with Siri as the technology evolves and gets better and even more useful. The amount of hours put into training Siri to understand critical elements of your life, preferences, habits and more would require quite an undertaking and a headache to simply start over with another device, assuming another device has such a feature of course.

This is why Siri is strategic for Apple. Siri is another piece of the Apple ecosystem that will command consumer loyalty. This is why Apple competitors should be concerned. The more people Apple gets into their ecosystem, the less likely they will consider competitors’ products year in and year out.

Ecosystem loyalty will be the battleground of the future and companies who do not build a healthy ecosystem that drives consumer loyalty will be in for an uphill battle.