Last summer, Apple (AAPL) announced a new iOS in the Car initiative, starring its intelligent personal assistant, Siri. Partnerships with leading auto manufacturers including General Motors (GM) and Honda (HMC) were announced, then things went quiet for months.
At the Geneva Auto Show Apple has announced iOS in the Car will be available in new cars starting in 2014 under the new name of CarPlay. Siri is getting a starring role with a “Voice” button on steering wheels to interact and control everything from navigation to music selection and handsfree calling and texting.
But is Siri up to the task?
There was a lot of hype and excitement surrounding Siri when it was first released as part of iOS 5 — and an iPhone 4s exclusive — in 2011. But it didn’t take long for the cracks to show in Siri’s capabilities, and having it firmly in the spotlight instead of just one of many new features didn’t help. Soon these sort of headlines became common:
“Siri is Apple’s Broken Promise” —Gizmodo.
“With Apple’s Siri, a Romance Gone Sour” —New York Times.
Clearly, these weren’t the sort of headlines AAPL was hoping for when it bought Siri (a former app), brought its creator into the fold then released Siri as a key function of its iOS mobile operating system.
Apple did bring much of this on itself by rushing Siri to market in the hope of beating rivals like Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) to the punch. Although it wasn’t always clear from the Siri promotional material accompanying the iOS 5 release, the AAPL intelligent personal assistant was beta software — in other words, Apple wasn’t ready to commit to it being ready for prime time. Building up expectations then releasing half-baked software has a way of backfiring.
But Siri has been improving. AAPL continues to analyze data such as the most common Siri queries and refine the software accordingly. Apple has expanded the scope of the questions Siri is able to tackle. With iOS 6 came the ability to answer sports-related questions, for example, and to check movie listings or book restaurant tables, along with the ability to post Twitter (TWTR) or Facebook (FB) updates. With iOS 7, Siri gained new voices, and is now hooked into being able to control system settings,
All the while, AAPL has been expanding Siri’s availability so more iOS devices can use it, taking advantage of better hardware (like dual microphones) to generate better voice query recognition and using accumulated Siri queries at its data centers to improve results.