Sushi or a Cold Dead Fish: Creative Marketing Lost on Microsoft

Couple of weeks ago, Forbes tech reporter Eric Savitz interviewed Microsoft’s chief strategy and research office Craig Mundie. Mundie tells Savitz that, “Microsoft has had Siri for over a year.” And just in case the hole Mundie was digging for himself wasn’t deep enough, he goes on to try to explain that since the iPhone 4s basically sucks, Apple had no choice but to “market” Siri to make up for the phone’s deficiencies.

After the howls of laughter died down, what Mundie was trying to say was that the Windows 7 phone has had built in voice recognition technology for the past year. Which is 100% accurate, and 100% irrelevant. Microsoft claims Windows 7 can “Make a call, send a text, or find a pizza place using only your voice.” (To verify these claims, one must of course find a Windows 7 phone that, at least in Silicon Valley, is as easy as finding an AOL subscriber.)

But whether a Windows 7 phone can or can’t do these tasks simply doesn’t really matter. What Mundie apparently fails to grasp is that, yes, much of Siri’s success is marketing – but not the marketing that Mundie apparently despises. To the contrary, there may be no better example of Apple’s creativity and, more importantly, Apple’s understanding of their customers than demonstrated by Siri’s marketing. Apple had the marketing sense to create the perception of machine intelligence that far outstrips Siri’s actual technical capabilities.

It is evident that Apple, understanding their customer, anticipated the questions and commands that Siri would likely be asked, and hard-coded some answers into the software. From the sublime (“What is the meaning of life,” – “I can’t answer this now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.”) to the ridiculous (“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck…” – “Depends on whether you’re talking about European or African woodchucks”).

Apples engineers nailed it: they’ve created the illusion of technology being much “smarter” than it actually is, using keen insight and humor to surprise, delight, and entertain a whole new legion of Apple converts. One can only guess long hours and long Q&A flow charts on Apple white boards. They gave Siri a name, a personality, and that Apple brand magic.

Speech recognition technology has been around for a long time. The ability to run applications on mobile phones has been around for a long time. It took Steve Jobs’ genius to show the telecom carriers that people really did want – and would use – apps on phones. And it’s taken Steve Jobs foresight to make speech recognition – and the underlying AI – mainstream.

So if this is mere marketing, Craig, so be it. You’ve proven the old adage: “If Microsoft invented sushi, they’d probably have called it “cold dead fish.”

Gary Griffiths
Trapit CEO and Co-founder

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