Siri was originally positioned by its founders as a transactional alternative to Google on mobile devices. The idea was to link directly to third-party services and avoid the blue links of search results. Now, the last of its co-founding team still at Apple, Tom Gruber, has reportedly left, according to a report from The Information.
The publication is also reporting that Vipul Ved Prakash, Apple’s technical search chief, has left as well. Prakash came to Apple when the latter acquired Topsy in 2013 and was responsible for Spotlight, search on Safari and Siri across desktop and mobile.
These departures appear to be at least partly in response to a recent reorganization that has former Googler John Giannandrea now in control of Siri and Apple’s artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives. Search and Siri are housed in the same group. Apple confirmed the departures to The Information.
After approximately two years at Apple, Siri’s other co-founders, Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, left and founded Viv. Viv was more ambitious than Siri but also intended to fulfill Siri’s original vision of “deep linking” into third-party services. Like Siri, Viv was acquired by Samsung in late 2016 for just over $200 million, before it could realize its vision.
Samsung developed its own virtual assistant, Bixby, which has received generally mixed-to-poor reviews. Viv’s technology was integrated into Bixby late last year. The Google Assistant is also available on Samsung Android devices.
The general perception is that Siri has fallen behind the Google Assistant in particular, but also Alexa.
Much is at stake for Apple in playing catch-up in AI and with Siri. When initially integrated into the iPhone in 2011, Siri was a novelty that helped differentiate it from Android devices. In the intervening years, voice search and virtual assistants have become mainstream and more central to the user experience. They’ve also become the basis for a new device category (i.e., smart speakers) that is starting to unlock the potential of the smart home.
Virtual assistants are now strategic — hence the hiring of John Giannandrea from Google and the reorganization of the Siri and AI business units under his leadership.