Speaking of the iPhone’s 10th birthday, Steven Levy has an interview with Apple’s Phil Schiller about the momentous occasion. Among other things, Schiller discussed the nascent virtual assistant market and took aim at Amazon:
“That’s really important,” Schiller says, “and I’m so glad the team years ago set out to create Siri — I think we do more with that conversational interface that anyone else. Personally, I still think the best intelligent assistant is the one that’s with you all the time. Having my iPhone with me as the thing I speak to is better than something stuck in my kitchen or on a wall somewhere.”
Well, I reply, Amazon sees its Alexa voice interface not as something pinned to one device, but a ubiquitous and persistent cloud-based product that can listen to you anywhere.
“People are forgetting the value and importance of the display,” he says “Some of the greatest innovations on iPhone over the last ten years have been in display. Displays are not going to go away. We still like to take pictures and we need to look at them, and a disembodied voice is not going to show me what the picture is.”
I don’t know that I’d agree with Schiller’s assessment here. For one thing, I find dealing with a voice-based interface in the privacy of my home a lot more friendly than standing around in public talking to my phone, and I think most people would tend to agree with that.
As for the display issue, well, it’s clear that Amazon’s already thinking ahead to that, but I think that Siri’s biggest problem is that it does rely too much on having a screen to fall back to, which can be annoying if you’re in a situation where you’re not near your phone. It’d be great if Apple had a way to detect if your phone was in your hand or on the table (and it probably can, using the accelerometer, for example), and responded in the way that was appropriate for the context.
Either way, I think voice-based assistants are here to stay, but they definitely haven’t achieved their full potential yet.