How does Silicon Valley and Apple miss Steve Jobs?
Well, on Monday night I was having dinner with Gary Morgenthaler, who was one of the investors in Siri, along with a few Siri team members and I heard stories that they weren’t able to tell me while Steve Jobs was alive.
For instance, Jobs called Siri management at least 30 times personally in about a month to convince them to join.
Also, Steve Jobs yelled at Apple managers who didn’t “get” why Siri was so important to Apple.
But most important to me, and the book I’m writing with Shel Israel: Jobs had already started working with the team on how to make Siri more contextually aware.
In fact, Norman Winarsky, who heads up SRI, the lab where Siri was developed, told me that SRI is about to start testing out a new app that will dig deeper into your email and your calendar to “assist” you in a much deeper way than Siri can right now.
What do we meet by context? Well, Siri today is pretty stupid about what’s on your calendar. Ask it “where is my next meeting?” and it will show you your next meeting, but it doesn’t know where it is. Close but no cigar. It gets worse from there.
Ask it “where is the best place to get lunch tomorrow?” and Siri answers with places near my home. Problem is that tomorrow I’m going to be at the Apple iPhone 5 launch in San Francisco. Siri is quite stupid about context, location, and a bunch of other things. Will it improve? Apple already announced some improvements to Siri, for instance Siri will, with iOS 6, be able to start applications. But it’s hardly expected to be contextually aware in any real way.
Ask Siri “what is my favorite gas station?” Siri answers “I don’t know.” The problem is, that isn’t really true. Apple knows what gas stations I’m most likely to stop at. Or it could, if it just knew how to contextually evaluate the data that both Verizon and Apple already have streaming from my phone. If it doesn’t know something like my favorite gas station, it certainly doesn’t know the answer to something simple like “how many times do I eat at Chinese restaurants?” That’s easily verifiable. Ask it such a question and it just brings up a list of Chinese restaurants near you. It doesn’t even try to accurately turn down the question.
But back to Jobs. He saw Siri’s potential to add a new, simpler, contextually-aware, user interface to any device. There are lots of rumors that Apple will use something like Siri in other products, like its Apple TV product. In fact, at dinner the other night I learned that at least one of the team members that remains at Apple is now working on a secret new project. I doubt we’ll learn about that tomorrow, but I’ll be looking for signs that Apple understands how to take us into the contextual age. I’ll be looking for signs that Steve Jobs’ passion for Siri is still being listened to.
Here’s two videos from the past that’s worth dredging up again. The first is of when Siri’s team visited my house to first show me Siri.
Here’s the investors in Siri talking about the inside scoop of what happened (minus the important Steve Jobs details that I learned this week): Part I and Part II.