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's smart assistant launched nearly a decade ago and has evolved tremendously during that time. 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 growing safer and easier to use.
Siri is an umbrella name for the smart voice assistant built into nearly every device in the Apple ecosystem. It also includes 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 that had an app of the same name in the App Store. Soon after, Apple integrated Siri into iOS to release alongside the iPhone 4S. Siri started life as a fundamental task manager with limited commands. At first, it required fairly precise commands, but the assistant 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" allows 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 for various tasks. It can find and suggest calendar appointments in email or messages, suggest web pages in Safari from links in Messages, and offer smart text suggestions based on recent Safari history. It will also recommend tasks you perform frequently or during specific times of day.
Thanks to these integrations, Apple's assistant becomes more personal across all of your devices. 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.
Siri essentially provides every Apple user with a personalized smart assistant. With multi-user support, HomePod can even understand who is speaking and respond accordingly.
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 Apple finally offered third parties access to the music API.
As you use Siri and various Apple products, the smart assistant will use what it has learned about you to grow more personalized. You can go even 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 custom actions called Shortcuts. As of iOS 13, Shortcuts are built into the system, allowing even casuals users to create quick interactions with their phones. 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 family members, how to spell and pronounce certain names or words, and set a nickname that it will use for you in conversation.
Privacy and Security
As with everything Apple does, the company built Siri and its systems with privacy and security in mind. Apple Silicon's secure element stores encrypted personal data on the device. It only sends complex actions or questions to servers for parsing using a random identifier. From settings, you can delete and reset this identifier and all personalization and data at any time.
One of the iOS 14 updates brings on-device dictation to Siri. It now uses the Neural Engine for all text-to-speech recognition.
After a recent controversy with smart assistants, Apple faced a privacy issue. In a report, contractors revealed that they were listening to some anonymous Siri voice queries to improve the smart assistant. This meant that any accidental activation could record casual conversations, potentially revealing private information to the contractors.
Apple addressed the issue by allowing users to opt-out of audio sharing with Apple. However, it still sends transcripts regardless of the user's choice.
Compared to other smart assistants, one could argue that Siri is the privacy leader. This is because of the way Apple devices handle user data compared to ad-revenue-based companies like Google and Amazon.
Shortcuts is the evolution of Workflow, a third-party iOS app that used available APIs to allow users to create on-device automation. Apple purchased Workflow to lay the groundwork for Shortcuts.
Upon initial release, Apple distinguished Shortcuts from "Siri Shortcuts." The Shortcuts app was separate from device-suggested shortcuts in settings, requiring users to install the Shortcuts app to customize and add Shortcuts manually.
Today, Shortcuts and Siri Shortcuts are combined and fully integrated. This disambiguates the naming scheme, bringing automation to all users.
Siri is an important part of Shortcuts, implemented top to bottom. Siri Intelligence suggests new Shortcuts and the assistant can execute voice-created ones.
With iOS 14, Shortcuts allows automations to run without user interaction. This new feature will bring new possibilities to Shortcuts once third-party developers make use of it.
The Shortcuts app now has folders, improving organization for users with many automations.
The Translate app in iOS 14 lets Siri 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 displays the conversation in both languages on either side of the screen, so each person can see translations easily.
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, starting with the iPhone 4s. The feature has since spread to every part of the Apple ecosystem. The following examples illustrate where Siri is and how users can implement it.
iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
"Hey Siri" will wake any modern Apple device, triggering listening for a query. You can also summon Siri by holding down the home button on Touch ID devices or the side button on Face ID devices. Spotlight search also offers an "ask Siri" option.
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 with the screen fully on, speaking "Hey Siri" will activate voice commands on the watch.
Apple's wearable also includes a feature called "Raise to Speak." Initially debuting on the Apple Watch Series 3, the feature allows you to raise your watch to your mouth and speak a command without saying the wake phrase.
Like with the home button or side button on iPhones, holding down the Apple Watch's Digital Crown will activate Siri. Apple also provides a Siri watch face, which updates you throughout the day with new cards from apps.
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. These are some of the available commands.
Headphones, Headsets, and CarPlay
Some devices with built-in mics connected over Bluetooth, Lightning cable, or audio jack will work with Siri. On compatible devices, you can press and hold on the play/pause button or call button to summon Apple's assistant.
CarPlay functionality depends 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 has limited functionality. To use the assistant on Apple TV, hold down the Siri button on the Apple TV Remote. You can request movie or music playback, search for movies using universal search, ask some trivia questions, or control your home. 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 by long-pressing the icon on the HomePod's top. Apple refers to Siri on the HomePod as a personal Music expert, offering other functions unique to the HomePod. These include describing who an artist is rather than showing a page result when asked about an artist.
On Mac, you can activate Siri via a dedicated Siri button. You can find this in the Touch Bar on any MacBook with Touch Bar or the menu bar. You can also trigger Siri with a keyboard shortcut.
"Hey Siri" works on Macs with built-in mics and T2 chips made after 2018. This version is also limited, only recently gaining the ability to control HomeKit.
Apple, Siri, and Social Awareness
Siri resides on every iOS device and nearly every Mac, making the assistant a primary source of information for many users. Apple claims millions of users activate it every day, and the company wants to keep Siri relevant and learning.
Apple tends to release statements during significant national events and social movements, and Siri technology sometimes participates as well. Large events like elections or acts of terrorism spurred Apple into adding special Siri queries. In these situations, the company wants to keep the public informed beyond merely presenting a Wikipedia page.
In 2020, Apple made Siri smarter about the events surrounding the election, providing users with helpful information about each state's primaries and caucuses. The assistant would often read an answer aloud and show a link to special Apple News coverage.
As 2020's unprecedented events proceeded, Apple adapted its digital assistant accordingly. The spread of coronavirus sparked fear and doubt, and Apple again wanted its smart assistant to be a useful tool. Apple gave Siri specific answers to questions about COVID-19 and offered links to the CDC and Maps directions to testing centers.
When the George Floyd protests broke out, demand for fact-checked information came with it. As misinformation spread, Apple gave Siri an update to push people towards facts and appropriate context. If users asked about "All Lives Matter," Siri would respond by showing users a link to the Black Lives Matter page.
The Future of Siri
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 siloed functionality on some devices, making Apple's smart assistant a cohesive, single entity across the ecosystem. Another rumor points to Siri interpreting your emotions to alter results.
Shortcut development will also lead to a more powerful assistant. Rivals claim superior responsiveness and natural language parsing, due largely to lower thresholds for user privacy. However, some critics see Apple as having better user customization and third-party integration. Siri Shortcuts can maintain that lead with its tight system integration.
Apple also acquires new companies and technologies from time to time, leading to improvements across its services. Apple acquired a company called Voysis in early April 2020. It may bolster Siri's ability to understand commands.
Keep up with all the Apple news with your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider Daily," – or bookmark this link – and you'll get a fast update direct from the AppleInsider team.