On the heels of Amazon’s success with Echo and Google’s introduction of Home, Apple is preparing a stand-alone virtual assistant device, powered by Siri, according to a report in The Information. The report says that Apple will also open up Siri to third-party apps.
This latter point is the more significant of the two revelations. According to the article:
Opening up its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers is the more immediate step. Apple is preparing to release a software developer kit, or SDK, for app developers who want their apps to be accessible through Siri, according to a person with direct knowledge of the effort.
As I’ve indicated in the past, this was the original vision for Siri: an intelligent front end for third-party services, transactions and content. However, after Apple bought Siri, it basically abandoned that ambition (aside from a handful of partner services). Now, competition is forcing the company to return to that vision.
The article cites “a person with direct knowledge” of the proposition that “Apple has been working on the device since long before the $180 Echo launched in mid-2015.” Regardless, Apple is compelled to create an Echo-like assistant for multiple reasons. One of them is the emerging smart home. These stand-alone assistants become hubs and controllers for other devices — part of a smart-home ecosystem. (Microsoft will likely be next with a Cortana-based home device.)
Siri co-founder Dag Kittlaus, now CEO of Viv, saw Siri explicitly as the successor to traditional search. One of his objectives was to eliminate the awkwardness of the mobile SERP. Yet with its announcement of Google Home last week, Mountain View ironically comes the closest to realizing Kittlaus’ vision so far. I say that because of the integration of third-party services from Uber, Pandora, OpenTable, Spotify, WhatsApp and Ticketmaster.
Google’s discussion of the “Google assistant” last week was also very significant because it ushers in a new era of “conversational search”:
The assistant is conversational — an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater.
In the event it’s not obvious, search in the future is more fragmented or “ambient.” It’s less about individual devices (the PC, the smartphone) and more about continuous access to information and capabilities across devices (PC, smartphone, car, wearable, smart hub).
Search is also less about “the SERP” and more about fulfilling immediate and specific needs or objectives — including transactional requests (e.g., book a rental car). This is not to say that the SERP disappears entirely or that SEO goes away — I’m probably unlikely to use Google Home or Echo to shop for (as opposed to buy) an oven — but in the assistant context, “search results” are radically altered. And SEO becomes something quite different from what it is today.
Reportedly, the Siri SDK will be announced next month at Apple’s developer conference, WWDC.