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Growth of Apple's Siri hampered by privacy & departure of key staff - report

Apple's Siri is failing to keep up with rival assistants from Amazon and Google not just because of fences created by privacy, but because of related staff departures, according to several former members of the Siri team.

Apple's privacy policy is making it hard to evolve and personalize Siri, the ex-Apple sources told the Wall Street Journal. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant both take advantage of user data stored in the cloud, improving their adaptiveness.

It's frustration with this gap —including slow support for third-party apps —that has reportedly led to people leaving the Siri team, some of them for competitors. Perhaps the best known losses are Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, who helped create the independent version of Siri that Apple bought and integrated into iOS. After later leaving Apple the pair founded Viv, which was in turn bought by Samsung and used as the basis for Bixby, an assistant found on the Galaxy S8 smartphone.

The Siri team is said to have first realized it was losing ground at a 2014 Amazon event showcasing the original Echo speaker. The device was not only able to play music, run Web searches, and order products from Amazon, but easily separate voices from background noise, and recognize people at a distance. Some of these features were clearly missing from Siri.

"People at Apple's anxiety level went up a notch," one ex-Siri team member said.

Apple did announce some Siri upgrades at this week's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, such as live translations, contextual query comprehension, and user data sync across all of a person's Apple devices. Stealing the spotlight was the HomePod, a $349 smartspeaker with Siri built in, shipping in December. The product will offer high-end audio, and double as a HomeKit hub.