Last updated: 1 week ago
The harbinger of the smart assistant era, Siri was introduced in 2011 as a built in digital assistant for the iPhone 4S. Now, over eight years later, Apple's voice assistant has taken on many more tasks and devices, bringing private voice control and automation to the masses.
● Voice activated digital assistant
● Shortcuts for automation
● Personalized with machine learning
● Private and secure
● Speaks and understands 20 languages
● Translate conversations
● Available in over 30 countries
● Introduced in 2011
Apple has been in the smart assistant game for nearly a decade and has a lot to show for it. Siri can sound natural, respond to queries conversationally, remember previous conversations, and control aspects of your life, all while remaining private and secure.
With each passing update, Apple's smart assistant gets more personal while remaining ever more safe and easy to use.
Siri is an umbrella name for the smart voice assistant built into nearly every device in the Apple ecosystem, and all the technologies surrounding Machine Learning and on-device intelligence used for smart suggestions. It does not have a single device to call home, although the HomePod is the only Apple device in which Siri is the primary form of user interaction.
Apple acquired the original voice assistant from SRI, a research company, and integrated it into iOS to release alongside the iPhone 4S. Siri started life as a fundamental task manager with limited commands and needed too-precise commands, but it has grown into a competent tool across all Apple devices since.
How Siri Works
With a tap, press, or wake command, Apple's smart assistant is easily activated across all Apple devices. The universal wake word "Hey Siri" will allow you to make commands or queries from nearly any Apple device.
When speaking, your command is processed locally to determine if it can be done on the device, if not, it is sent to an Apple server with a random identifier. Devices store all Siri intelligence data encrypted end-to-end so all data is synced without fear of snooping, and even Apple can't get to it.
Siri intelligence uses Machine Learning to find and suggest calendar appointments in email or messages, suggest web pages in Safari if links were shared in iMessage, and offer smart text suggestions based on what you were recently reading in Safari. It will also pay attention to tasks you perform frequently or during specific times of day and recommend them on the lock screen or in Spotlight.
Apple's assistant becomes more personal across all of your devices, thanks to all of these integrations. After learning your voice, Siri should only be activated when you speak the wake word, and offer personal information from your calendars and iCloud connected data.
It's like every Apple user has their very own personalized smart assistant! HomePod even understands who is speaking with multi-user support.
Third parties can tap into Apple APIs and create their own integrated functions. This has been under high scrutiny for years because of the nature of Apple APIs and developers only getting access to certain things. Recently Spotify was able to add Siri support, but only because the music API was finally made available.
As you use Siri and your Apple products, the smart assistant will become more personalized based on what it has learned about you. You can go even further and change what voice it will use, like choosing between male and female voices, different accents, or even change the language entirely.
Other than the suggestions that occur across your device, you can also create your own custom actions called Shortcuts. As of iOS 13, Shortcuts are built into the system and allow even the most novice user to create quick interactions with their phone. Siri Intelligence and the voice assistant both play a part in this.
Further customization can take place within Apple apps or inside the voice assistant itself. You can tell Siri which of your contacts are your family members, teach it how to spell and pronounce certain names or words, and even set your own nickname that will be used to refer to you when talking.
Privacy and Security
As with everything Apple does, Siri and its systems were built with privacy and security in mind. Apple uses the secure element to store encrypted personal data on the device, and only complex actions or questions are sent to servers to be parsed using a random identifier. This identifier and all personalization and data can be deleted and reset at any time from settings.
One of the iOS 14 updates brings on device dictation to Siri. All text to speech recognition is now accomplished using the Neural Engine.
After a recent controversy with all smart assistants, Apple was faced with a privacy issue posed by its users unforeseen by the company. Users were upset that their voice data was being used, albeit anonymously as claimed by Apple, to improve the smart assistant. This meant that any accidental activation could slip through and potentially reveal private information or conversation.
Apple has since somewhat rectified the issue by allowing users to opt-out of audio sharing with Apple, however, transcriptions are still sent regardless of the user's choice.
When compared to other smart assistants, Siri can easily be seen as the privacy leader, if only because of the way Apple devices handle user data in general.
Shortcuts are the evolution of Workflow, an app on iOS that took advantage of available APIs to allow users to create on-device automation, which was later purchased by Apple.
Upon initial release, Apple distinguished shortcuts from "Siri Shortcuts" and was technically built into iOS 12 as suggested actions offered by Siri Intelligence. The Shortcuts app was separate from device suggested shortcuts in settings, and required users to install the app to customize and add Shortcuts manually.
Now Shortcuts and Siri Shortcuts have been combined and fully integrated into iOS 13 as a system app, which disambiguates the naming scheme and brings automation to all users.
Siri is an important part of Shortcuts and is implemented top to bottom. Siri Intelligence offers new Shortcuts to the user through suggestions and notifications. The assistant can be used to execute any created Shortcut via voice.
With iOS 14, Shortcuts will finally allow automations to run without user interaction. This brings a whole new level of possibilities to creating Shortcuts and will be further fleshed out once third-party developers can make use of it.
The Shortcuts app now has folders for organization. It was a long time coming, but for those of us who have more than a few, or even a few hundred Shortcuts, we can now sort and find them much more manageable.
The new Translate app on iOS 14 will allow Siri to translate conversations in real-time. The app intelligently understands what language the speaker is using and translates it on the fly.
When held in landscape mode, Translate will display the conversation in both languages on either side, so each person can easily see what is being translated.
The Translate app works entirely offline and features two-way translation for the following languages:
- Mandarin Chinese
Devices with Siri
Siri launched as an exclusive iPhone feature and some say it was the 'S' in the iPhone 4S, but has since spread to every part of the Apple ecosystem. The following are examples of where it can be found and how it is implemented:
iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
"Hey Siri" will wake any modern device and have it listening for a command. Siri can also be summoned by holding down the home button on Touch ID devices, or the side button on Face ID devices. Spotlight search offers an "ask Siri" option as well. You can teach your iPhone to listen only for your voice, reducing accidental activations from commercials or other users.
If your Apple Watch is awake and the screen is on, saying the wake phrase will activate voice commands on the watch. A feature that has existed since the Apple Watch Series 3 called "raise to speak" will allow you to raise your watch to your mouth and speak a command without saying the wake phrase.
Like the home button or side button on iPhones, the Digital Crown will activate Siri when pressed and held down. It also has its own watch face, which updates with new cards from apps throughout the day.
You can also disable Siri in settings to prevent inadvertent activation.
Airpods and Beats Pro
First-generation Airpods can summon Siri with a double-tap gesture. Try some of these commands.
Headphones, Headsets, and CarPlay
Devices connected over Bluetooth, Lightning cable or audio jack that have built-in mics will allow a press and hold on the play/pause button or call button to summon Siri.
CarPlay functionality will depend on the car's hardware. Usually, it will allow "Hey Siri" or a long press on the touchscreen home button or steering wheel call button to summon the assistant.
Siri on the Apple TV is a siloed version of Siri, meaning that not all functions are available. To use Siri on Apple TV you hold down the Siri button on the Apple TV Remote. You can request movies and music to be played, search for movies using universal search, ask some trivia questions, or control your home when using Siri from most locations on Apple TV. When viewing media you can ask "who is in this movie" or "what did they say" to get specific results designed for the Apple TV.
Siri is the primary user interface with HomePod. You can summon it with "Hey Siri" or a long press on the glass top of the HomePod. Apple refers to Siri on the HomePod as a personal Music expert and offers other siloed functions unique to the HomePod like describing who an artist is rather than showing a page result when asked about an artist.
Siri is activated via a dedicated Siri button on the Touch Bar on any MacBook with Touch Bar, or a keyboard shortcut. "Hey Siri" also works on Macs with built-in mics and T2 chips made after 2018. This version is also siloed and only recently gained the ability to control HomeKit.
Apple, Siri, and Social Awareness
With Siri being on every iOS sold and nearly every Mac, the assistant has become a source of information for many. Apple claims it is activated by its millions of users every day, and therefore wants to keep Siri relevant and learning.
Large events like elections or acts of terrorism spurred Apple into adding special queries to Siri to help keep the public informed without presenting a Wikipedia page. Apple always speaks up during major national events or social movements, but their technology doesn't always participate.
In 2020 Apple made Siri smarter about the events surrounding the election and gave users helpful information about the primaries and caucuses being held in each state. Often you'd be read an answer and shown a link to special coverage in Apple news.
As 2020 went on, many events that affected all Americans and the world started to progress. The spread of coronavirus lead to a lot of fear and doubt, but Apple again wanted their smart assistant to be a useful tool. Apple gave Siri specific answers to questions about coronavirus and would offer links to the CDC and Maps directions to testing centers.
When the George Floyd protests broke out, a huge clamor for fact-checked information came with it. A lot of misguided or misrepresented information was being passed around, and Apple again gave Siri an update to push people in the right direction. If asked about "All Lives Matter" Siri would respond by showing users a link to the Black Lives Matter page.
The Future of Siri
With iOS 13 and Shortcuts, it is clear that Apple has no intention of slowing down the assistant's development. So what is next? Many speculate that a SiriOS is inevitable. This hypothetical operating system would eliminate the silos and make Apple's smart assistant a cohesive, single entity across a user's ecosystem. Another rumor points to Siri interpreting your emotions to alter results.
Shortcut development will also lead to a more powerful assistant too. As rivals claim superior responsiveness and natural language parsing, Apple still holds the crown for user customization and third-party integration with Siri Shortcuts and can maintain that lead with its close system integration getting even tighter.
Apple also acquires new companies and technologies from time to time, which can lead to improvements across its services. A company called Voysis was acquired in early April 2020 that may bolster Siri's ability to understand commands.