When Apple pushed Siri as a standout feature of its iPhone 4S way back in 2011, there was skepticism over the need for a digital assistant. Fast forward to today and they are commonplace, with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung all heavily invested in AI assistants. To compete with those other technologies, and in particular Alexa, Apple has been on a hiring spree of sorts with a focus on Siri.
Thinknum, a data analysis startup, combed through Apple's job listings and found that the number of open positions containing the term "Siri" has accelerated in recent weeks. Specifically, it found 161 Siri-related job openings posted on March 30th alone. That is notable as it marks a jump in hiring for the keyword of 24 percent in just over a month. It's also the highest number of Siri job openings ever.
"It's easy to see that this is a concerted effort by Apple to make Siri smart. Or, at least, smarter than she has been. It's no secret that Siri is perceived as lagging behind her competing AI cousins at Amazon (Alexa), Google (Google Assistant), and Microsoft (Cortana)," Thinknum says. "While the other assistants are picking up new skills on a daily basis (Alexa Skills and Google Actions are massive, growing categories), Siri is still struggling to take notes and turn off lights. When Apple released the long-awaited HomePod, critics praised the speaker's sound quality but unanimously called it crippled by Siri's lack of smarts."
The hiring spree started around mid-February, with an upward trajectory in Siri job openings since summer 2016. Among the job openings, most are for software engineers, with a few other titles sprinkled in, such as infrastructure engineer, machine learning engineer, and so forth.
It's no coincidence that Apple is ramping up its search as its HomePod smart speaker hits the market. While Apple helped popularize digital assistants on smartphones, Amazon gets the credit for doing the same thing in the connected-home space, with its Alexa-enabled Echo products leading the way.