Eddy Cue’s Top Priority: A New, Super-Smart Siri

If you’re going to announce a major reshuffle of your executive team, including the allegedly-enforced departure of the man responsible for your most important product line, doing it on a day when your two biggest competitors are making major product announcements and the stock market is closed due to a massive storm is probably the best time to do it.

The departure of Scott Forstall wasn’t so much buried as drowned under Hurricane Sandy, three new devices from Google, and an entire new mobile operating system from Microsoft (Windows Phone 8).

Of course, that only made it the second-biggest story in technology of the day (sorry, Microsoft, you just don’t rate that highly). Plenty of others have covered that ground, but what interests me is the challenge that faces Apple and in particular the new head honcho of all Internet services, Eddy Cue. Because the biggest challenge facing Cue isn’t just getting Maps and Siri to work better: it’s integrating the software services that Apple provides in a richer and more meaningful way.

Consider the way that Google Now — the Android answer to Siri — now pulls information from your Gmail account to give you reminders about flights and travel plans. Or how it monitors your calendar and gives you travel details for how to get to a meeting from wherever you are.

This kind of proactive use of data in an integrated way is exactly where Apple should be with Siri, but isn’t right now. But that may not be true forever. With all of Apple’s online services — Siri, Maps, iCloud, and so on — now under one roof and the capable hands of Cue, Apple has a chance to at least keep close to Google. If you’re an iCloud user, Apple knows when you get meeting invites. It knows where you’re going, at what time, from your calendar. It knows the routes you should take to get there, thanks to Maps (at least in theory). So why isn’t Siri, which is supposed to be the smartest assistant around, suggesting this stuff to me without me having to ask? Apple even has patents that cover exactly this kind of feature.

In my head, whenever Eddy Cue takes over a new part of Apple, he appears like Jack Nicholson in The Shining: bursting through a locked door at Cupertino, shouting “Heeeere’s Eddy!” with a maniacal grin on his face. He has a reputation as Apple’s Mr. Fixit, capable of taking apart and putting back together a project that isn’t working in quite the way Apple needs it to.

The only fly in the ointment is that Cue’s track record doesn’t include much in the way of serious integration between services. He’s widely-regarded as a great negotiator, having faced down the record labels in the early iTunes era. He’s also regarded as someone capable of delivering direction to a team and ensuring it delivers a higher quality product on time.

But integration between complex software services? Iterating fast, something that’s essential if Apple is going to keep up with Google’s services? Not so much. Those aren’t strengths that Cue has shown much of, at least not so far. It’s time for Eddy to prove he can really push a service along, as well as simply saving it from doom.

Ian has been writing about Apple since Michael Spindler was the great hope of the company and Newton was the last word in intelligent assistants. He lives in London, herding cats for a living.