Sensory Introduces a Global Set of Wake Word Models for Apple Siri Following WWDC Announcement
Sensory announced today that it now offers “Hey Siri” wake word models for “dozens of different countries.” This product release follows Apple’s announcement Monday that revealed Siri will now be available to embed in third-party smart home devices and control them by voice. The company appears to be the first wake word engine provider to announce “Hey Siri” support.
Voicebot’s Eric Hal Schwartz commented on Apple’s announcement, “Apple’s plan is for Siri to be accessible through devices built with Apple HomeKit. Users will be able to access the voice assistant on any approved device connected to their network.” The capability will enable third-party smart home devices to activate and be controlled by voice using Siri similar to the way users interact with a HomePod smart speaker. These devices will connect locally with a HomePod or Mini smart speaker for processing the voice command.
Wake Word Engines Needed
Ecobee announced Monday that it will release the first smart thermostat to include Siri controls for its devices later this year. To enable this feature, Ecobee required a wake word engine installed on the device. The brand is called out by name in Sensory’s news release although we have not yet confirmed which wake word technology the company is using.
“Every conversation with a virtual assistant starts with a wake word so accurate wake word performance across the world is mandatory for a positive user experience,” said Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory. The company is making the Siri wake word available through its TrulyHandsFree SDK and can be used for both “prototypes and finished products.”
The Siri wake word features are expected to be used beyond smart home devices over time. According to a Sensory spokesperson, “‘Hey Siri’ wake word models [are] available in different sizes, languages, and ports for all of today’s popular DSP platforms. Sensory is fast-tracking the development of third-party Siri devices ranging from wearables to smart speakers and beyond.”
Always Listening for the Wake Word
It is easy to overlook the challenge for OEMs implementing this capability which Amazon and Google already provide to their OEM partners. An on-device wake word engine will be required to recognize when a user is asking Siri to execute a command. Today, this can be done only through a HomeKit compatible iOS app using a smartphone or HomePod. It was unclear whether Apple plans to provide this technology to partners to implement directly on their devices. There is no mention of it in the SiriKit documentation so it is likely that third parties will need to bring their own wake word. Indeed many OEMs also use their own wake word engine when integrating with Alexa or Google Assistant due to performance and processing capacity requirements.
Current implementations of SiriKit all involve iOS apps on Apple devices but these are connecting with Siri at the OS level on the iPhone. Siri is being linked to app features directly. That means these services are using the native Siri wake word.
Wireless earbud and headphone makers are typically integrating with a button press that uses A2DP or another standard to connect with Siri on the iPhone. This is a key reason you do not see more always-listening, hands-free Siri activation outside of AirPods. Plus, for battery powered devices, an always-listening wake word can drain the battery so there is an important feature tradeoff.
Another approach being used by companies such as Native Voice runs wake words in a companion app for the earbuds. This off-device solution works because the earbuds are a client of the smartphone. You only use the devices in combination. Smart home devices using the newly integrated Siri features are expected to be used without the need for an iPhone everytime you interact with the device. The device will have the intelligence to start the conversation directly.
It should be noted that the on-device Siri wake word has been implemented previously through at least one earbud provider. Pioneer Rayz wired headphones for iPhone have “Hey Siri” always-listening activation that is operated on the device. Voicebot has learned this Siri wake word engine was provided by Sensory.