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Siri, the digital concierge bundled with Apple’s iPhone, is overdue for a major upgrade that will see an injection of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) technology, according to a recent report by The New York Times.

The report noted Apple’s top software executives have recognized the need for a significant overhaul of the digital assistant after testing OpenAI’s ChatGPT app, which showcased not only the capabilities of GenAI but drew attention to Siri’s limitations.

While Siri had been a pioneering feature in iPhones since 2011, it lacks the ability to engage in natural conversations and often struggled to understand complex queries.

The upcoming improvements to Siri, expected to be unveiled at Apple’s annual developers conference, aims to make the virtual assistant more adept at engaging in conversations and handling multiple requests with more elan.

Apple is also reportedly exploring partnerships with companies like Google, Cohere and OpenAI to license complementary AI models for its chatbots.

The Times report said executives are worried advancements in AI could disrupt Apple’s dominance in the smartphone market and potentially undermine the iOS software ecosystem.

To address these challenges, Apple is focusing on enhancing Siri’s existing functionalities rather than directly competing with advanced chatbots like ChatGPT.

This approach involves improving Siri’s ability to perform tasks such as setting timers, managing calendar appointments and summarizing text messages.

David Truog, vice president, principal analyst at research firm Forrester, said Siri’s planned upgrade likely has to do with changing consumer expectations.

“Siri is pretty limited, and with the debut of ChatGPT, consumers are starting to make comparisons,” he said. “Apple must do something to counter user disappointment with Siri and the perception that it’s behind the times.”

He added Apple’s track record of offering superb user experiences suggests that when the company is ready to unveil the new and improved Siri, they will have done the work to ensure it meets expectations but also avoided Siri saying things that are toxic, harmful or incorrect.

“There are companies putting things out there based on generative AI, with a kind of move fast and break things attitude,” Truog said. “Apple does not do that—that’s not their ethos.”

Gal Ringel, co-founder and CEO at Mine, noted for many people, their smartphone is the most important physical thing in their life.

“For something so prevalent in everyday life, why shouldn’t it be utilizing GenAI advances to bring new capabilities into users’ hands?” he asked. “The average consumer wants efficient and novel experiences, and GenAI will allow for both.”

From his perspective, the big takeaway after the Times report is that Siri will now be able to glean context and carry out real, life-like conversations and tasks.

“While I am dubious of a digital assistant’s usefulness, Siri has seen little meaningful advancement since its introduction and has long been due for an update,” he said.

In the end, Apple’s decision to give Siri a GenAI-powered upgrade is unlikely to have defining impact on the iPhone’s popularity, Ringel added.

“I do not think this is going to redefine smartphones and their use in a notable, era-defining way,” he said. “Very few people treat their phone like a digital concierge, so giving it basic GenAI abilities is not going to transform how people fundamentally use their phones in a short period of time.”

He noted the risks, as always, relate to privacy and security, which in this case are even more important, given Apple’s track record of prioritizing those issues.

“Having a smartphone already means walking around with a tracker and live microphone 24/7, and including GenAI tech as part of that simply means heightened privacy risks if anything were to happen to your phone,” Ringel said.

He pointed out Apple is aware of this, as the report verifies that the company is working on new silicon for use in its data centers for the dual purpose of better energy efficiency and cost savings to be able to have more systems in-house for greater oversight and implementation of privacy by design.

“I fear that the average consumer is not fully aware of the value and risks of privacy, however, which could open up real vulnerabilities when using GenAI features on smartphones, even if Apple is taking some precautions on the matter,” he said.