Steve Jobs legacy: he personally brought Siri to Apple, saw that Siri had a contextual future

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.


12 thoughts on “Steve Jobs legacy: he personally brought Siri to Apple, saw that Siri had a contextual future

  1. From what you write, it seems Apple/Siri has access to all the data it needs for your questions – Anything else on any (mobile) platform further along than Siri when it comes to putting things in context?


      1. Yup, more data sure seems to be a precondition to winning. Facebook has more data than most anyone about me. It will be interesting to see if Facebook can capitalize on that.


  2. Great article. It is sad that we will never know what great plans and ideas were in Job’s head. His legacy lives on in every mobile app we touch and build. The only shortfall pf Siri, was it maybe could have integrated a better UI for its service. It scares people when it auto opens. There is a lot of room for growth. You said you would be at Apple launch tomorrow …. Does that mean you are skipping disrupt? I was hoping to meet you because I am a huge fan. In another report you said you were in audience at the hackathon so you may recognize me by the Spaceious hack Tumblr API if you stuck around for all 150? … Just a fan


  3. This is exactly what I’ve been saying recently.

    Since the launch of Jelly Bean with Google Now, Apple have been left behind and Siri needs to improve. We have some contextaul data such as being able to ask for a petrol station enroute but there is so much more that needs to happen – I think we’ll see it in iOS7.

    Apple is currently gathering “data suppliers” rather than data and forming an amalgam with the mapping engine as a base. I would expect more acquisitions/developments so that Apple is not relying on 3rd parties for its data (just as it now longer relies on Google) and, once all this is in place, we will see a full context engine for Siri. This is why the new Maps app is not just about getting rid of Google, it’s about building a framework.

    Is it going to be a year to late? No, i don’t think so. To use your own terminology people are still worried about crossing the freaky line and the uptake on Google Now is currently minor. We have other apps such as Saga trying to so a similar thing but they’re just not there yet. With a contextually aware Siri Apple will do it’s usual trick of taking an idea and popularising it – taking it to the masses in a way that everyone suddenly says “oh yeah, I see what you did there”.

    Google Now and Project Glass are currently in the geek realm, a contextually aware Siri will be for the people.


  4. This is exactly what we set out to build with Friday (for Android). And it does answer questions on which is your favourite restaurant or (even bank) or bookstore. Along with bunch of other stuff.


  5. @PXLated Google Now that was just released in the latest version of Android does some contextual things. It tells you when to leave for a meeting based on your location and the meeting’s and traffic, it listed directions to the airport without me asking on the last day of my trip, along with a few other things. It’s a very cool, creepy beginning… 🙂


  6. Awesome piece, Robert!
    No doubt that Siri can evolve and grow, although my hunch is that Apple are busy taking Siri the market, expanding globally, implementing for the apple tv maybe… but the indication of the two siri founders that left apple is maybe a sign for lack of continues innovation…
    In addition, voice and AI are basically in their infant, so I think that relevant innovation will pop up in various fields.


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