Apple finally threw out the Siri script and I couldn’t be happier

Apple finally threw out the Siri script and I couldn’t be happier

Change can be hard, scary, and especially fraught when it comes to technology consumers rely on daily. Perhaps that’s why Siri changed so incrementally over these past 13 years. Perhaps. The accepted wisdom is that Apple didn’t see a good path forward. The available AI tools right up until 2022 were lackluster, and Apple wanted the right fit to achieve its largely unspoken aspirations.

Now those aspirations have a voice – a very different Siri voice – and intelligence that could put Siri in the same arena as Google Gemini and OpenAI GPT 4o (it’ll literally be in the same arena as the latter but more on that later).

I have nothing against Siri. It’s fine for setting timers, and…well, that’s been the primary use around my house.

This reborn Siri, announced here at Apple Park during the WWDC 2024 Keynote, will be far more capable. It’s built on a brand new foundational model called Apple Intelligence (yes, “AI”) that Apple infused throughout iOS 18, iPadOS 18, and macOS Sequoia.

There’s much to cover in Siri’s new brain, but it’s worth talking about the design changes, as well. Siri’s App icon, which now looks like a canny play on the infinity sign, has no visual relationship to any Siri we’ve seen before. 

When you tap into the new Siri, it’s no longer a small glowing orb near the bottom of your screen. Instead, the entire screen bezel glows. This is more than a nice visual touch, it’s a signal that the iPhone system and Siri are one. Siri’s knowledge about your phone and you are no longer through a small pinhole of access. Tap or speak Siri’s name and its gapping maw consumes the fleshy information on your phone to intuit your intentions.

Siri is finally seeing your information, photos, messages, notes, interactions, and the relationships between them. I know that might sound scary, but you don’t call something an “assistant” if it doesn’t assist. And digital assistance isn’t worth much if it isn’t smarter than a flat query. Seeing information in three dimensions is what makes large language models and generative AI so powerful. It’s picking up on non-obvious relationships.

This is the Siri of iOS 18 or, more accurately, of Apple Intelligence.

Apple Intelligence sounds extraordinarily powerful, certainly outstripping any AI Apple ever applied before. In the run-up to announcing Apple Intelligence and the new Siri at the WWDC keynote, Apple mentioned Machine Learning multiple times (and avoided saying AI). 

Machine Learning has long been Apple’s go-to for on-device training and intelligence, and it still does a lot in the new platforms, but it also has limits. Apple Intelligence, which does as much as possible on the phone and only reaches out to the new Private Cloud when local won’t suffice, appears unshackled from such limits.

Apple takes this notion even further, conscripting OpenAI ChatGPT to step in when Siri has to tap out.

The questions about all this are endless, and despite Apple’s many promises of privacy, the company is reaching out in so many generative directions that I think it remains to be seen if Apple can deliver on a truly private Apple intelligence and Siri experience.

Despite the frustration that this Artificial Intelligence magic will stall below the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max (seriously?), I am mostly encouraged. Apple took its time getting here, and, as is often the case, it had the opportunity to learn from everyone else’s mistakes. It did not position the new Siri as an answer-everything tool. No, Siri and Apple Intelligence are simplification and automation engines. They will get you answers faster by cutting across all your iPhone information to understand what you really want. In apps, Apple Intelligence looks like it will offer a helping hand wherever you need it but won’t be overbearing.

Eventually, Siri will be able to see inside Apps and understand the contents of your screen. This is something I’ve wanted for years and I can only imagine how it’ll transform the iPhone, iPad, and macOS experience.

After the keynote, I found Apple CEO Tim Cook and congratulated him on a great keynote. I added that they almost had me convinced on Apple Intelligence. Cook laughed and said, “Almost?!” I told him I was kidding. I’m pretty well convinced.

Siri as you knew it is dead. Long live the new Siri and welcome, Apple Intelligence. This is the kind of change I can get behind.

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