Looks Like There Might Be Some Siri News Next Week with iOS 13, But it Will Be Incremental at Best

The Guardian received some private documents from an Apple contractor and most of the headlines are about how Apple curates Siri’s answers for certain politically and socially sensitive topics. However, there was some additional information that suggests new updates to Siri’s capabilities will accompany iOS 13. Reporting by the Guardian about the documents concludes:

“The company will be bringing Siri support for Find My Friends, the App Store, and song identification through its Shazam service to the Apple Watch; it is aiming to enable “play this on that” requests, so that users could, for instance, ask the service to ‘Play Taylor Swift on my HomePod’; and the ability to speak message notifications out loud on AirPods.”

More Incremental Advances for Voice Navigation

Apple will host its annual fall product showcase for the media on Tuesday and it will certainly focus on hardware. However, for the Cupertino device makers, Siri is often a useful prop for feature demonstrations. This is particularly true for iPhone and Watch.

You can imagine Craig Federighi walking out with an Apple Watch while a Rush song plays (of course) as his walk-on music and saying, “Hey Siri, what song is this?” One demo, two features! Or, he might use the updated Find My Friends feature employing Siri on an iPhone. Then, he could act surprised and say, “I have an incoming message. Hold on a second. Hey Siri, play my message” with the AirPod tucked away in one ear that somehow is able to transmit the audio of the text message from his wife over the PA system. Or maybe, he will ask Siri to loosen his Nike shoelaces. Great demos. Siri is so useful; isn’t it.

While Siri doesn’t get a lot of attention, the company does have an interest in ensuring the voice assistant remains relevant even as rivals pull further ahead in functionality. Siri’s strength is voice navigation of native iOS features and for a handful of app functions. It cannot accept compound requests, doesn’t have follow-up mode or retain conversational context, and there is no concept of a native Siri app untethered to an existing iOS app. Alexa and Google Assistant have had these features and others for some time. Samsung has introduced some of these and more in Bixby 2.0. But, there are few power users of voice assistants today. Apple can show some useful Siri use cases and placate the majority of its customers while buying time before a more robust Siri can be brought to market.

More to Come in “Fall of 2021”?

Some additional data shared with The Guardian suggests more robust features will come in the fall of 2021. Presumably, that would be with iOS 15. According to The Guardian, this includes “the ability to have a back-and-forth conversation about health problems, built-in machine translation, and ‘new hardware support’ for a ‘new device’.” Back-and-forth about health problems sounds a lot like a symptom checker. These already exist on other platforms and there are a number of third party developers working on more robust solutions. The Guardian speculates that the new device will be the small HomePod, but the code to support that will most likely be baked into existing software for HomePod. More likely we are talking about smart glasses which are the source of occasional predictions about forthcoming Apple products.

Voice Insider #54 this week discussed how Baidu’s rapid rise in China from an inconsequential third place in smart speakers and other voice assistant segments to the leader five quarters later in Q2 2019 offers some insights for how to break-in on a voice duopoly. Apple will need to produce more than a handful of features this year with some more in two years to make a similar move globally. Otherwise, Siri will remain a competent, if limited, voice navigation tool for the iPhone and Watch and little more. SiriOS or something similar in 2020 will be essential to stave off niche status and irrelevancy.

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