It’s always nice to get an insider look at how employees treat products we’re supposed to be excited about. 

I always imagined Meta employees found Zuckerberg’s obsession with the metaverse deeply weird, and it seems likely that’s the case, given the lack of enthusiasm for VR meetings at the company. But what’s more surprising is that Apple employees seem equally unimpressed with its virtual assistant, Siri.

It’s not like Siri is the smartest of the voice assistants, but nor is it the dunce of the family — a slightly sad dual between Microsoft’s Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby. But according to a new report from The Information, Siri is “widely derided” by Apple employees “for its lack of functionality”. 

This seems to back up an earlier New York Times report which outlined how Siri’s database is “clunky”, meaning that it takes “weeks” for Siri to get “basic features.”

Worse, the team working on the Reality Pro VR mixed-reality headset have found Siri so useless that at one point they considered “building alternative methods” for the device’s voice controls.

All of this is not helped by the AI arms race going on outside of Apple. ChatGPT has changed everything quickly and makes Siri — along with the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant — look extremely basic in comparison. 

This, in turn, is leading to employee retention problems in the AI and machine learning groups at Apple. The Information report says that the Siri team has lost three engineers to Google, as they apparently believed they’d be better placed to work on large language models (LLM) outside of Cupertino. 

Tim Cook reportedly “tried to persuade them to stay” but was ultimately unsuccessful. Google CEO Sundar Pichai — who “personally wooed the group” — clearly impressed them more.

The fact that Cook got involved suggests that the CEO is aware that Apple needs to up its AI game, but it may be antithetical to the company’s risk-free culture. 

Both ChatGPT and Google Bard — which managed to knock US$100 billion off Google’s stock price in one morning by making things up — have grabbed attention for the wrong reasons, and there’s a question as to whether Apple has the stomach for these inevitable public teething issues.

Yet without them, AI can’t really advance. As the report says, employees are “sceptical that the company will be successful” in the LLM field, in part because of Apple’s dislike of bad PR — inevitable while AI cuts its teeth.

You can read the full report at The Information

Photo: Matt Birchler / Unsplash