Siri’s last co-founder has left Apple

Is Apple shaking up its Siri team? It certainly seems that way.
According to a
report from The Information
, the last remaining
cofounder of the digital assistant, Tom Gruber, has left the
company. This follows from the announcement earlier this month
that Google’s former AI chief, John Giannandrea, will be taking
on a
new role
as Apple’s “chief of machine learning and AI
strategy” — overseeing Siri and other AI efforts.

Gruber, along with Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, cofounded Siri
Inc, the company which created the original Siri app and which
Apple purchased in 2010 for $200 million. Siri was introduced
in the iPhone 4s
the following year
, with its then-unique combination of
speech recognition and “assistant” features wowing critics. The
honeymoon period lasted a few years, but Siri has since lost
ground to rivals like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

Kittlaus and Cheyer left Apple years ago and founded Viv Labs;
another digital assistant startup that was bought by Samsung in
2016 to help shape its Bixby functionality. Gruber, meanwhile,
became head of Siri’s Advanced Development Group. According to
The Information, he will be leaving the company to
pursue “personal interests in photography and ocean
conservation.” The same story also noted the departure of
Apple’s head of search, Vipul Ved Prakash, who joined the
company in 2013 with the acquisition of his company Topsy,
which was integrated into Spotlight to search the web and
social media.

A number of reports from inside Apple’s Siri team have
suggested that the company’s digital assistant has been
hampered by a lack of direction and conflicting interests. For
example, since 2012, the team has been led by Bill Stasior, a
former Amazon executive and an expert in search. Both
The Information
The Wall Street Journal
have suggested this may
have been a source of friction, as although Siri certainly uses
search functionality, its ability to understand users relies on
more basic speech and language processing skills.

Apple’s decision to hire Giannandrea, who will oversee Siri but
also Apple’s Core ML software, may be a sign that these
priorities are changing. As The Verge noted
earlier this month
, Giannandrea’s background and past work
have been focused on natural language understanding; arguably
one of Siri’s weakest skills. Whether Apple can turn Siri
around in the coming years remains to be seen, but it certainly
seems that changes are afoot.

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