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Apple's Siri & rivals being hampered by poor microphone tech

Apple's Siri —and other voice assistants from the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft —are being held back by the state microphone hardware, a report noted on Thursday.

Since the launch of the iPhone 5 in 2012, microphone technology hasn't advanced significantly, IHS Markit analyst Marwan Boustany explained to Bloomberg. As a result, mics still have difficulty picking up distant voices and filtering out background sounds. Even without these issues, keeping a mic on all the time —needed for voice triggers like "Hey Siri" —can sometimes consume too much battery life.

Companies like Apple are said to be looking for better mics from suppliers to fix these problems, as well as achieve a higher acoustic overload point less likely to be tripped. At the same time, size and power consumption need to be kept under control.

Partly to compensate for poor pickup, device makers have gradually been adding more microphones in recent years. While the first iPhone had a single mic, there are three in the iPhone 6, and four in the iPhone 6s. The Amazon Echo has seven, being a device that needs to hear users from anywhere in a room.

Some possible solutions may include mics with built-in audio processing algorithms, or ones using piezoelectric technology.

Microphones could become extremely important to Apple if the company is indeed developing an Echo competitor, whether in the form of a standalone product or an upgraded Apple TV. It's unknown how many mics the "iPhone 7" might be equipped with.