Sound that airhorn: Apple just gave Siri some much-needed updates that are … not exactly mind-blowing. But given Siri’s shortcomings up to this point, it’s a step in the right direction.
Siri won’t be making creepy phone calls on your behalf like Google Duplex, but it is more customizable, and, crucially, will finally connect to more third-party apps.
At WWDC on Monday, Apple announced some new skills for Siri as part of iOS 12. They include an app called “Shortcuts,” and activity prompts called “Suggestions,” that will help Apple users more easily integrate Siri into everyday life.
The key for both of these new features is Siri’s ability to communicate with more (non-Apple) apps. In the past, critics have said that its limited app integration, especially in comparison with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, are what’s held Siri back from becoming truly useful. This takes an important step toward changing that, although the default directions app is still, *shudder*, Apple Maps.
Shortcuts lets you create custom voice labels for Siri commands. For example, if you’re someone who loses your keys a lot, and you have the smart keychain Tile and its accompanying app, you can set up a shortcut “lost keys.” Saying the phrase “lost keys” would cause Siri to set off your Tile. Voila.
You can also create chains of commands with Shortcuts. For example, you can set up a “Heading home” Shortcut to do things like navigate, turn on your AC at home, tell your roommate you’re on the way, start playing music through an app, and more.
Siri will also get better at anticipating your needs. If you order coffee through an app every morning, Siri might serve up a notification on your home screen to send your coffee order. Suggestions are also integrated into the shortcut creation process.
Up until this point, Siri has struggled to stack up against competitors Alexa and Google Home Assistant, especially on HomePod. Apple has been making moves to change that.
In April, Apple hired Google’s head of search and AI John Giannandrea to run Apple’s “machine learning and AI strategy.” Now, Shortcuts and Suggestions might help Siri become actually useful, making up some of the ground it lost in AI advances thanks to neglectful development after the death of Steve Jobs.
These capabilities are indeed a positive move. But we can’t help but wonder: What took so long?