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Apple removes Siri team lead as part of AI strategy shift

Apple executive Bill Stasior, who has led the Siri team since joining the company in 2012, has been removed as head of the project in a sweeping strategy shift favoring long-term research over incremental updates, according to a report on Friday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, The Information reports Stasior is no longer in charge of Apple's virtual assistant team, though the executive is still employed at the company. In what capacity Stasior now works is unclear.

Apple SVP of machine learning and AI John Giannendrea reportedly made the decision in an attempt to shift the Siri program toward research and away from minor upgrades typically pushed out in annual releases. Giannandrea is anticipated to start a search for a new head of Siri, the report said, though a timeline for replacement is unknown.

Hired by former Apple executive Scott Forstall to run point on Siri, Stasior was previously attached to Amazon's A9 search arm. During his tenure, Stasior had to manage not only the development of a premiere consumer AI product, but infighting within his own ranks as the project began to focus more intently on search capabilities.

Siri was at one point the focus of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs who, along with Forstall, envisioned a true conversational AI not restricted to web searches and device controls, but something close to human interaction. That vision waned with Jobs' passing and Forstall's ouster.

Stasior's removal as head of Siri comes at a critical point in the voice-enabled assistant's timeline. The first AI assistant to see wide adoption thanks to its inclusion in 2011's iPhone 4S, Siri now sees stiff competition from the likes of Amazon and Google, both of which found great success in building their respective technologies into smart speakers and home appliances. Apple's own foray into the smart speaker space, HomePod, launched to mixed reviews, many of which dinged the device for Siri's comparatively limited feature set.

Apple is now looking to Giannandrea in hopes of pulling ahead in the AI space.

Hired early last year, Giannandrea previously worked on artificial intelligence projects at Google. In December, he was promoted to SVP and put in charge of Apple's AI and Machine Learning programs, including Core ML and Siri.

Apple saw a number of high profile exits under Giannandrea, including the departure Tom Gruber, the last of Siri's co-founders to leave Cupertino. Vipul Ved Prakash, who served as Apple's search lead after his startup Topsy was acquired in 2013, left at around the same time that Gruber retired.