Apple Shifts Leadership of Siri Amid Rising Competition

By Tripp Mickle Features Dow Jones Newswires

Apple Inc. has shifted oversight of its Siri voice-assistant team to Craig Federighi, putting the product in the hands of the technology giant's top software engineer as it contends with rising competition from rivals such as Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

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The decision moves control of Siri away from another senior vice president, Eddy Cue, who had overseen it since 2012. It takes place as Siri is increasingly enmeshed in Apple's personal computer and smartphone operating systems, which Mr. Federighi also manages.

It also comes amid concerns, detailed in a June article in The Wall Street Journal, that Siri, which popularized voice assistants when Apple introduce it in 2011, has lost ground to rivals including Alphabet's Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa as those competitors opened up to third-party apps.

The new role was noted on Friday in a change to Mr. Federighi's biography on Apple's website. An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the change but declined to comment further.

Mr. Federighi, who like Mr. Cue reports to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, had a stint at Apple in the 1990s then rejoined in 2009 to oversee engineering for the Mac operating system. In 2012 he gained responsibility for its iOS smartphone software as well, and in that role has been deeply involved with Siri already.

He takes on full oversight of Siri as Apple is on the cusp of releasing its first smart speaker, the HomePod, in December. Its success will largely hinge on Siri's integration in the device and ability to perform tasks, including playing specific songs on command.

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Competitors also are bolstering their voice-assistant teams. The Journal reported on Friday that Amazon is adding hundreds of engineers to its Alexa program and has put in charge of the business a veteran executive known for scaling high-growth operations.

Gene Munster, an analyst with Loup Ventures, said that Mr. Federighi brings more of a technical background than Mr. Cue, who heads internet software and services and has led Apple's push into content by striking deals with music labels and Hollywood studios. Mr. Munster expects Mr. Federighi to open up Siri to more third-party developers, allowing those outsiders to use the service much like he has done with iOS.

"This whole area around voice is getting super competitive and it's important Apple steps up their game," Mr. Munster said. "This change to Craig overseeing Siri is one way to do that."

Apple has opened Siri to about a dozen different types of third-party apps, allowing people to use their voice to access payment and ride-sharing apps such as Venmo and Uber. By comparison, Amazon's Alexa has more than 12,000 custom commands for third-party apps that allow users to order coffee, start a guided meditation or check their bank-account balance.

Apple says more than 375 million of its devices access Siri each month across 21 languages, and that Siri fields nearly 2 billion requests a week.

Mr. Cue, meanwhile, also has added new responsibilities in other areas in recent months, including oversight of Apple's video strategy. The company recently hired two of the Hollywood executives behind "Breaking Bad" and earmarked $1 billion for the development of original video content.

Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 01, 2017 14:49 ET (18:49 GMT)