Artificial Intelligence. AI What exactly is it and why is Apple so bad at it right now?
In fact, I have a better question. Is Apple bad at it, or is it just focusing on the wrong things?
I’d perhaps argue it’s the latter but, really, it doesn’t matter one jot. Let me explain why, and yes, I’ll get to the part where Siri just isn’t cutting it anymore in a world where ChatGPT can do so much.
The Apple of my AI
Let’s kick things off by saying that I’ve already discussed why Siri and ChatGPT are so different yet also so similar, at least in the way they are perceived. They’re both seen as AI by some. And they might be right to think that. But it’s way more complicated and anyone who looks at Siri and says that it sucks at AI is missing the point somewhere.
When we talk about AI it’s all too easy to think of something very similar to ChatGPT. That is, once we’ve stopped thinking about the T-1000 or something from The Matrix. But all of Apple’s best iPhones are filled to the brim with it. AI I mean, not The Matrix.
There’s the Neural Engine, for one. It’s dedicated to running AI algorithms and just generally being very clever indeed. And it does a lot more than run Siri because, frankly, it probably wouldn’t be worth having it there if it didn’t.
Take the Photos app as one example that might slip many a mind. Your iPhone’s Photos app does all kinds of things with photo processing, as does the Camera app. It might not be the glossiest bit of software installed on your iPhone, but it does a lot with little.
Point your iPhone at something and hit the shutter button and away it goes. The iPhone’s image processing pipeline does a mesmerizing number of things in the blink of an eye, and it’s all thanks to AI in some shape or form. So is the magic that is iOS 16’s ability to remove objects from photos.
But we don’t think about that when we think of AI We think of Siri. Apple isn’t bad at AI at all.
It’s bad at Siri.
We all have Siri horror stories just waiting to be told so I won’t rehash them here. But suffice it to say, it needs work. It already needed work before everyone started typing random requests into a text box and saw what ChatGPT could do for them. And then we got ChatGPT 4. We even got ChatGPT 4 on the Apple Watch. But ask Siri to turn out the lights and all hell breaks loose.
The problem, I’d suggest, is that Apple isn’t focusing on Siri. Not one jot. Instead, it’s focusing its gaze literally everywhere else — or so it seems from the outside, at least.
The AI smarts are still present and correct and I’m sure the iOS 17 and iPhone 15 releases will show exactly what Apple’s boffins have been working on in that regard. But those same people could and perhaps should be fixing what they started. They should be fixing a Siri that’s gone largely unchanged since the heady days of the iPhone 4S in 2010.
Sure, it can do a couple more things and yes, we have the HomePod so we can shout at it whenever we want. But whether Siri will hear us or, who knows, actually do what we asked it to do. Those things are unknowns. Guesswork. A finger in the air.
No, Apple isn’t focused on Siri. It’s focused on your forehead instead.
Have you heard that Apple is working on a mixed reality headset? Oh, you have?
Of course, you have, because it’s the next big thing. Apple certainly hopes it will be, despite the misgivings of some of its own employees. It’s going to be big, costly, heavy, and have short battery life. But Apple really wants it to be good, and it seems that it’s been cutting corners to ensure everyone focuses on it. On Reality Pro, if you believe the rumors.
Despite being huge and making more money than, well, anyone, Apple doesn’t just think different. It works different, too.
One former iMore EiC used to tell me that Apple is surprisingly small in the way it works internally. It almost doesn’t see itself as the huge company with thousands of employees that it is. So when it knows that one thing is important, everything else almost seems to stop. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Except, it does.
Apple focused on the iPhone, and we got the MacBook’s butterfly keyboard. Before that, it focused on the iPad and we got the iPhone 4’s antennagate. Is it now focusing on Reality Pro to the detriment of everything else and Siri specifically?
Maybe so. And it got away with it while we weren’t looking. But now everyone is looking. They’re looking at ChatGPT and wondering why Siri can’t start a timer reliably.
The answer might just be a $3,000 headset that might or might not be the next big thing.
We shall see. Me? I’d like to see Siri get an overhaul and a proper one at that — one that makes it as interesting and exciting as the current wave of AI tools spreading like wildfire over the web. Fingers crossed for 2024, perhaps.