The Problem with Apple Siri’s Accented Language

The Problem with Apple Siri’s Accented Language

I have written extensively that the strategy which Apple pursues through differentiated hardware and exclusive software would not work in any other market but smartphone. As I wrote in the Harvard Business Review, iPhone was a perception product which exceeded not just the needs and expectations of the customers, but met them at the level of perception. Replicating the business model of iPhone is any other product would be extremely challenging.

It is really important that the focus moves from the excitement on the technology to the value created in markets. We have to work on building products that bring perception demand. But just having the products is not enough. We need to find ways to also stimulate demand for them. By moving into perception demand, you have changed the basis of competition, a new curve, and if you do not clearly communicate, you could be alone. I never see Apple as a technically great company (yes, those fashion patents!). It does not need to be to have success. The company is peerless in innovation from the lens of customers and that is what matters.

Yes, that you got users at perception demand, for smart iPhone, does not mean that you will get them in smart speakers. So, that Apple exclusivity business model would become a limitation over time especially in these products where the more the users, the better. And that is what usually happens in platforms: you want to deepen your inversibility construct by making the user experience better. And that capability provides a positive continuum which works like this: a great product would attract more users, and the more the users, the better would be the product. It is about data which when it is used to improve the product further, makes it better.

Expect the same struggle as Apple moves into automobile infotainment. I am not really sure if many car companies would adopt the iOS platform (over the open Android) with its closed ecosystem of take whatever you are given, and nothing more. Car makers would like to have the capacity to improve and customize the operating system. Apple does not make that a possibility. That would hurt Apple. Contrast that with Android which you can largely do whatever you want.

Apple is losing in the voice assistant business. It does not have a radically great disruptive product which can technically change the basis of competition. Unlike iPhone, it is one of the players, and not ahead by any measure. So, the exclusive business model depresses its ability to attract more users in the ecosystems. Why work with exclusive Apple when Google and Amazon are open ecosystems. Android is a product that you can use to build a phone business; Apple’s iOS is exclusive to Apple.

Among Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Cortana (Microsoft) and Google Assistant, Siri is not the category-king even though it was among the pioneer. At the moment, Apple is yet to build a smart speaker business. It started the voice AI with Siri but it has massively lagged Amazon’s Alexa because even the people using Siri are the richer people who can afford Apple’s largely more expensive products. So, technically, Siri may not excellently understand poor people’s voices because not many of them are using it. That is a limitation to scale.

As Google and Amazon expand the nexus of their voice AI products, they would reach more users. The smart speaker business would give them more opportunities to add more voices and insights over Siri.

Who is winning the market for smart speakers with digital assistants? It’s not Apple yet, obviously. Amazon Alexa has a 69% share with an estimated 31 million units sold, trailed by Google Home with a 31% and 14 million units sold, according to surveys by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

We would be waiting for what changes when Apple launches a smart speaker to see if that would improve Siri’s numbers. I do not think so because Apple is sticking with its pricey exclusive strategy: “Apple’s smart speaker HomePod is scheduled for release on February 9. It will have an uphill climb given its higher price ($349) and late entry.”

Apple Siri has an accent problem: it can only understand rich people because it was born for the rich who have been communicating with it. In a world of economic diversity, Siri would be a minority. The other friends, Alexa and Assistant, born into human economic diversity, would have better careers in volumes and growths.


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