Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Drawing Connections Between Apple’s Acquisitions of Workflow and Siri

A couple of interesting connections have emerged between Apple’s acquisitions of Siri and Workflow — in 2010 and yesterday, respectively — and I thought they were worth noting.

First is the note that Workflow is remaining in the App Store post-acquisition. This parallels the way Apple handled the standalone Siri app after they bought it in April 2010. Greg Kumparak, in an October 2011 report for TechCrunch:

Long before today’s announcement that the Siri Voice Assistant would be an integral part of iOS, Siri was a third-party app. It wasn’t as pretty, and not nearly as well integrated, but it had one big advantage: it ran on just about any iOS device.

Then Apple bought Siri. It immediately became clear that Apple was making a push into voice — and yet, the app stayed on the store. It lived on un-updated, but it lived on nevertheless. Then Apple introduced Siri… exclusively for the iPhone 4S.

And with that, the life of Siri (the application) came to an end, making way for Siri (the feature).

It’s terrific that Workflow is remaining in the App Store — even better, it’s now free — but it’s also a reminder that it will, one day, vanish into the ether as a standalone app.

That brings me to an excellent article from Khoi Vinh speculating on the future of Workflow and one potential reason for Apple’s purchase:

But this move also hints at what the future of Apple’s strategy for Siri, smart assistants and home automation might be. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to guess that Workflow could play a key role as an elegant, easy-to-learn scripting environment for many if not all of Apple’s future endeavors in cloud-connected, AI-powered, voice-enabled platforms. When you look at competitors like Amazon’s Alexa platform, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc., they all lack a truly elegant, easy-to-master entryway for casual users who want to customize their experiences—and that’s exactly what Workflow gives Apple. (Though don’t be surprised if these other players acquire Zapier or IFTTT soon as well.)

I know this is all speculative, but I’d love a way to build custom workflows for Siri. It could be like HomeKit’s scenes feature, but for my entire phone — and, ideally, all of my Apple devices. There’s tremendous potential there, especially with the effortless UI that the Workflow team conjured up and the increasingly seamless way iCloud-connected devices are communicating with each other.