Writing for The Information, Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin published a scathing look into the inner workings (and not-workings) of Siri’s development at Apple. Is it accurate? I don’t know. I have never had any sources directly familiar with Siri. But the actual results — the state of Siri today — sure do match up. The story is behind The Information’s paywall, alas. If you’re not a subscriber and want to read the full article — and I encourage you to, there’s a lot in it — you can do so with this shared link if you’re willing to give The Information your email address.
A few parts that caught my eye:
The Siri team still had Mr. Forstall, but his attention was
divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of
Apple Maps. Mr. Forstall installed Richard Williamson, one of his
deputies on the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri group and
get things back on track.
Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of
decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a
plan to improve Siri’s capabilities only once a year. That was the
approach Apple typically employed with iOS, and Williamson’s
background was in making software run on phones that received
updates from backend servers. Team members said they argued in
vain that that model was wrong for Siri, which they believed
needed to be an online service that continuously improved, not
updated annually. While the server software received many updates
relating to stability and performance, there were no architectural
changes to Siri in the first year, say former employees.
Mr. Williamson, in an emailed response to an interview request,
wrote that it’s “completely untrue” that he decided Siri shouldn’t
be improved continuously. He said decisions concerning “technical
leadership of the software and server infrastructure” were made by
employees below his level, while he was responsible for getting
the team on track.
Williamson can push back all he wants, but from the outside, I sure haven’t noticed steady incremental improvements to Siri — especially in the early years. Here’s where it gets really juicy though:
“After launch, Siri was a disaster,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “It was
slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious
bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team,
certainly not me.”
Dag Kittlaus, the CEO of Siri who negotiated its purchase by Apple with Steve Jobs, responded on Twitter and did not mince words:
This statement, wholly false, was made by the architect and head
of the biggest launch disaster in Apple history, Apple Maps. In
reality Siri worked great at launch but, like any new platform
under unexpectedly massive load, required scaling adjustments and
24 hour workdays.
You just don’t see former Apple executives snipe at each other like this. I’m trying to think of the last time, and I’m coming up blank. And to be clear, it’s Williamson who broke the seal. Kittlaus wouldn’t have said a word if his team and their work hadn’t been besmirched. Steven Levy tweeted:
@Dagk @Jessicalessin That quote is kind of amazing. Even if true
(and I believe Dag) brazenly pushing blame to someone else for a
product you were responsible for is a very bad look.
The gist of The Information’s story is that Siri has existed for seven years without cohesive leadership or product vision, and the underlying technology is a mishmash of various systems that don’t work well together.
Gregory Viscusi, Marie Mawad, and Helene Fouquet, reporting for Bloomberg:
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday France will take
legal action against Google and Apple and fines could be in the
“million of euros”. Fines are likely to be about 2 million euros
($2.5 million) per company, accused of taking advantage of local
developers. This comes after a two-year investigation by the
ministry’s fraud repression unit, according to an official in Le
“I learned that when developers develop their applications, and
sell to Google and Apple, their prices are imposed, Google and
Apple take all their data, Google and Apple can unilaterally
rewrite their contracts,” Le Maire said in an interview with RTL
radio. “All that is unacceptable and it’s not the economy that
we want. They can’t treat our startups and developers the way
What in the hell is he talking about? I guess the “imposed” prices could be something about the 30/70 percent split in the app stores, but it makes zero sense to argue that “Google and Apple take all their data”. Maybe this was mistranslated from French? But that seems highly unlikely given that at least one of the bylined reporters is fluent in the language.
And what’s the point of a $2 million fine? Last quarter Apple made $200 million in profit per day. It would take Apple about 15 minutes to generate $2 million in profit. This is some serious Dr. Evil math.
Carolyn Y. Johnson, reporting for The Washington Post:
Elizabeth Holmes, founder and chief executive of the blood-testing
company Theranos, has been charged by the Securities and Exchange
Commission with an “elaborate, years-long fraud” in which she and
former company president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani allegedly
“deceived investors into believing that its key product — a
portable blood analyzer — could conduct comprehensive blood tests
from finger drops of blood,” the SEC said.
Holmes agreed to a $500,000 penalty and a 10-year ban on serving
as an officer or director of a public company to settle the
charges, but she did not admit or deny the allegations.
The whole thing was just a fraud:
The company fell from grace in a snarl of regulatory problems and
the revelation that its proprietary technology was not even being
used in its blood tests, first reported by the Wall Street
The SEC alleges that Holmes, Balwani and Theranos raised more than
$700 million from investors by misrepresenting the capabilities of
the proprietary blood-testing technology that was at the core of
its business — as well as by making misleading or exaggerated
statements about the company’s financial status and relationships
with commercial partners and the Department of Defense.
On that latter point, the saga involves the Trump kakistocracy because of course it does:
The SEC also alleges that Holmes claimed to investors that
Theranos technology was being used by the Defense Department on
the battlefield in Afghanistan and on medevac helicopters. Those
statements “were important to potential investors because these
relationships lent legitimacy to Theranos’ business and its
proprietary analyzer,” the SEC alleges.
That technology was never deployed on the battlefield by the
Defense Department, even though Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who then
led the U.S. Central Command, personally pushed for it. Regulatory
officials in the military had flagged problems with Theranos’s
approach. Mattis later joined Theranos’s board; he resigned to
become defense secretary.
More on Mattis’s ties to Theranos here.
I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I
wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through
layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a
media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was
24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book
learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little
about actual real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all.
Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now:
poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m
ashamed to have written some of them.
But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be
who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person
vectoring towards a better version of himself.
20 years, period, would be a hell of a thing. But 20 years and running strong is even better. Congratulations, my friend, and thank you.
Mikey Campbell, writing for AppleInsider:
In a note to investors on Thursday, seen by AppleInsider, Kuo says
Samsung will most likely put the anticipated feature on ice as
both ultrasonic and optical solutions do not meet the company’s
“According to our understanding of the technologies, under-display
fingerprint solutions may currently have many technical issues
(e.g. screen protectors and different environments affecting
recognition rates and power-consumption),” Kuo writes.
Still, Kuo remains upbeat on the specialized biometric solution,
saying the technology is integral for full-screen handset designs.
Contrary to Apple’s views, Kuo does not see facial recognition as
a suitable replacement for fingerprint-based authentication
methods. When Apple introduced Face ID with iPhone X, critics
voiced similar concerns about security and potential spoofing.
Kuo is often right about what is going on in the Asian supply chain, but in my opinion he’s often wrong about why. Samsung is surely moving away from fingerprint sensors because Apple has already figured out that facial recognition is a better solution. I do not think there is a bright future for in-screen fingerprint sensors.
Update: Also, what’s this about facial recognition not being a suitable replacement for fingerprint identification? iPhone X has been out for half a year and all the evidence to date suggests it is every bit as secure as Apple claims it is. The shitty facial scanners from other companies may not be secure enough, but Apple’s seems to be.