Apple Presents New Voice Features at WWDC, But Nothing Radical
Today’s Apple WWDC keynote address covered a lot of ground over the course of almost two and a half hours. But when it came to voice features in particular, Apple offered a very mixed bag. Here’s what CEO Tim Cook and his team revealed at the WWDC keynote about Apple’s upcoming plans for voice. You might also want to look at the pre-event rumors and reality that Bret Kinsella and I broke down in our earlier piece: What to Watch for at WWDC and What Actually Happened. But first, here is a short list of WWDC announcements that are related to the voice industry.
Siri Gets Friendlier
Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, will start to sound a lot warmer thanks to Neural Text-To-Speech software. Siri’s synthetic voice will now sound more human with more complex sentences and a more natural speech pattern. And users will potentially be hearing Siri’s new voice more frequently. Siri will now be able to read incoming messages to AirPod users, and let them dictate responses with the new Announce Messages feature. Siri will also start recommending routines in Siri Shortcuts whereas before a user was required to create them from scratch.
Siri’s new voice is part of a larger expansion of vocal control offered by Apple’s new software. Users of both iOS and MacOS devices will be able to manipulate their devices in any way they want with different voice commands. Apple pitched the concept as a way to improve accessibility to devices, but having the option will encourage plenty of Apple device users to at least experiment with hands-free computer use.
Apple Watches will also see some improvements in voice technology. Voice memos, Memoji, and other vocal apps are all coming to the new Apple Watch App Store. And, to make sure the voices are actually discernible, Apple Watches will now be able to monitor and check the background noise level so people don’t accidentally make a voice memo of wind noises. As an extra privacy measure, Apple said during the keynote that none of the noise monitoring audio will be recorded and saved. Interestingly, this feature was introduced as a personal health feature that can help consumers avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises that may cause permanent hearing loss.
Apple took a step in improving the value of its HomePod with the announcement of multi-user support. Music and incoming messages, reminders, and other information will all be personalized. The software will be able to distinguish between different voices, so more than one person can interact with the device without having to log in and out of an account. Amazon Echo and Google Home have had this feature for a while, but Apple can now compete with them.
The HomePod will also be more mobile friendly with a handoff feature coming with the new software update. Instead of the sometimes annoying process of switching around audio players, users will simply need to come close to their HomePod with their iPhone to transfer audio from one device to another, in either direction. As Apple also announced today that HomePod will also now offer more than 100,000 stations from TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Radio.com, the overall value of HomePod as a music lover’s device has increased. But, it still is saddled with a lackluster Siri for the foreseeable future.