While it was initially hailed as a competitor to Siri, Google Now has since proven that it is much more than that and has left Siri far behind. When Microsoft launched Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1, they too leapfrogged Apple's digital assistant with useful functionality. And with the recent announcement that Microsoft would be porting Cortana to their competitors platforms, it has become clear that Apple needs a proper response, and it looks like that response will be "Proactive."
In 2013 Apple acquired personal assistant app Cue, in a bid to build on the search capabilities they had long been working on with Spotlight and in Safari, and it seems to be the core of what they will turn into 'Proactive'. When iOS 8 introduced the ability to display Wikipedia search results directly in Spotlight, it was the first glance into Proactive, and it has seemingly reduced traffic directed to Google by iOS.
According to 9to5Mac, Proactive will return search from a screen to the left of the home screen instead of a pull-down menu in order to make it more accessible, and will include automatically generated content as well as a search bar and integration with a user's Calendar and Contacts apps. It will also learn a user's behaviour and begin to suggest common tasks at the appropriate time, such as reminding you to call your mother if you typically call her the same time every week.
As well as improvements to Spotlight and Siri, the Proactive service will include enhancements to Apple Maps to allow for augmented reality views to better make use of its Points of Interest feature, as well as integration with third-party services like Foursquare, Yelp and Nokia's HERE. Integration with Apple Maps will be key to Proactive's success as location-based suggestions are a big part of what they are planning.
For the first time ever, Apple is also offering limited access to a Siri API called "Breadcrumbs" which allow for much better third-party integration into the new search capabilities, as well as allowing for a better Apple Watch experience when controlled by voice. The big concern here is that too much Siri integration between apps will allow for errors in context, leading to privacy issues if the wrong data is sent between apps.
These changes are all expected with iOS 9; however it is not immediately clear if they will launch with the new OS, or if they will potentially be rolled out slowly as they are completed. As with all pre-announcement information, it is best to take this with a grain of salt until the keynote. iOS 9 is due to be announced at Apple's 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8th, and we should learn more then.