The story of the day comes from Bianca Bosker of The Huffington Post. She has written a massive feature about the origins of Siri. If you have the time, it’s worth examining. It touches in plenty, including the future potential of the virtual assistant. But the story’s greatest revelation comes near the beginning. Before Apple bought Siri in 2010, it was nearly launched on another platform. Specifically, it was slated for Android phones from Verizon Wireless.
What started out as a Department of Defense project soon turned private, with a dedicated team working on a Siri app. That app hit the App Store in early 2010, shortly after which Apple acquired it for more than $150 million. But before that acquisition, before Siri eventhit the App store, Verizon had a deal in place to put Siri on its Android handsets. Given the state of Android at the time, it could have been an enormous game changer.
Remember, it wasn’t until the original Droid, along with Verizon’s Droid Does marketing campaign, in late 2009 that Android actually became relevant in the mass market. It had been around commercially since the T-Mobile G1 in 2008, but few Android handsets impressed consumers by that point. The Droid, and Android 2.1, marked a turnaround.
Now imagine if Verizon had Siri to push along with its new Android handsets.
Even though it bought Siri in early 2010, Apple didn’t unveil it until late 2011. Part of that was certainly the timing of its releases. The iPhone 4 was slated for a July release, so Apple was already dedicating significant resources to that in early 2010. Chances are Verizon could have gotten that out to users much earlier, perhaps in late 2010. That could have changed the competition level immediately. But the real effect would have come in October, 2011.
That’s when Apple released the iPhone 4S. While iOS 5 was certainly an improvement, it was merely a free software download. In terms of hardware, the 4S was just an incremental upgrade over the 4. Yes, it had a slightly nicer screen and a slightly more powerful processor. But that kind of incrementalism rarely sits well with users.
Siri was the big selling point of the iPhone 4S. In fact, despite its easy compatibility, Apple did not put Siri on any of its older-generation devices — even the iPad 2, which had been released earlier in 2011. That was the big selling point for the 4S, and it apparently worked well. But it’s easy to imagine a much damper reaction to the iPhone 4S if it didn’t contain Siri.
The competition is becoming stiffer now that Google has its own voice-driven assistant application. The hope is that this drives Siri further — many users have noted a lack of progress in the past year-plus that Siri has been available. But one thing is for certain: Steve Jobs pulled off a coup when he snatched Siri away from Verizon and got it on his own devices. It’s easy to imagine history unfolding quite differently if he hadn’t.