Today, Apple is expected to release a set of new iPhones, which will cause the tech community to buzz about the latest features just like it does every year. But this year, I’d encourage the industry to consider that Siri—not the iPhone—is Apple’s best bet to keep its brand at the very top for the foreseeable future.
We’re heading into an era in which people use voice AI to control the world around them, including talking to cars, household appliances, entertainment centers and other smart systems. Forty-six percent of American adults have already interacted with a voice assistant. While Apple has the most market share for mobile-based voice search, it is far behind Amazon and Google for smart speaker share. That position isn’t an ideal place to start as voice search and other communications spread to devices other than our phones.
Apple must develop Siri so it’s almost as much a part of our routines as the iPhone is now for its 700 million-plus users. Indeed, the world’s first $1 trillion company has its work cut out for it if it wants to maintain its lofty status.
Evolving AI and human relationships
Communications is going to change drastically in the next 10 years. The inevitable spread of 5G-powered networks will spearhead IoT-based innovation to the point where people will routinely transmit messages and get digital tasks done with devices that are not smartphones.
People will employ voice AI from end to end of daily life.
The future of communication lies in smart earpieces, smart watches, smart glasses, smart speakers, smart cars, smart refrigerators, etc. And Apple’s helping lead the charge: Apple AirPods are projected to reach 26 million units sold this year, while Apple Watches are selling 8 million units per quarter. It’s hard to say where the iPhone fits by 2025. And the future of Apple’s iPad is even far less certain.
It is certain that people’s relationships with their phones have gotten personal. And because of this reality, Androids and iPhones are also one of the richest sources of data about people’s content interests, shopping habits and the places we visit. Voice assistants will follow that same trajectory, and, importantly, they are going to be mostly device-agnostic.
Therefore, like smartphones have been since the iPhone launched in 2007, voice AI is the tech battleground to watch. For Siri to come out on top, it will need to “know us” better via our data, and it needs to be used across the devices that mean the most to us. If Siri doesn’t know us better than Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, we’ll use one of those systems instead.
Employing a mountain of data
It requires a massive amount of data to build up—through machine learning—a voice assistant to the point of high accuracy. And Apple’s competition in this regard is formidable if not daunting.
Google Assistant has access to an incredibly high volume of data due to consumers’ constant use of its search engine. Amazon knows what household items and electronics we buy and what we like to read and what we watch—all of which can fuel Alexa. Facebook doesn’t currently have a voice assistant, but it is sitting on a goldmine of intelligence from everything people share on the company’s social platforms (including Instagram) as well as all the voice and conversation data from their various messenger platforms (including WhatsApp).
Apple, meanwhile, is a mobile data powerhouse thanks to the iPhone. Additionally, Siri is a data-gathering engine, and Apple TV collects data about consumer entertainment choices.
Under the direction of CEO Tim Cook, the company is also tapping into AI to create products tailored to consumer needs. For instance, Apple Watch apps are making real-time, AI-powered recommendations such as upcoming music concerts or notifications about health events like irregular heart rates. All of these data sources can lead to a powerful, cloud-based customer experience infrastructure to create not only smarter devices but also a smarter Siri.
Designing an Apple triumph
Apple can win the voice AI era the same way it became a smartphone juggernaut—by creating pleasing experiences. It must design a customer experience around its voice system that honors the rich history of its brand.
The company needs to build the best, most accurate voice AI system, and make it as easy and intuitive to use across as many devices as possible. And cross-device Siri should be fun, trendy—it should exude a personality in the same way the iPhone did. These strengths will create demand with manufacturers of devices, appliances and cars; they will want to partner with Apple and implement Siri as a native feature in their products.
Apple can be the leading voice data company and maintain brand dominance by making Siri better than Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Because rest assured, in the not-so-distant future, the need for an iPhone will not be as great as it is today.
Julia Stead is vp of marketing at Invoca.