Siri is Apple's smart assistant across all of its platforms. It uses machine learning to determine suggestions for users, answer queries, or control devices. Users can configure it to speak with multiple voices across several languages.
● 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
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Apple's smart assistant launched over 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.
The neural networks and algorithms used by Siri work both on-device and in the cloud to provide information to the user. However, the smart assistant is still highly reliant on cloud computing and can't do much when used offline.
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.
Unlike other smart assistants, Siri doesn't have a central hub or speaker to call home. The HomePod and HomePod mini is the closest thing to a "Siri device" that Apple sells, though it isn't advertised that way.
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.
At its start, Siri was barely a task manager capable of responding to simple commands. Apple has slowly added features and improved upon Siri's intelligence while trying to keep up with the competition.
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. All voice data is encrypted end-to-end so all data is synced without fear of snooping from Apple or anyone else that may try to look.
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 iMessage, and offer smart text suggestions based on recent websites or news articles the user interacted with. It will also recommend tasks you perform frequently or during specific times of day.
Third-party developers can tap into Apple APIs and create their own integrated functions. Devices like the HomePod, were heavily scrutinized by regulators who thought Apple gave too much preference to its own services. Now, companies can utilize APIs to add services like Spotify to the HomePod.
As you use Siri on various Apple products, the smart assistant will use what it has learned to grow more personalized. In essence, each user's Siri is unique to them.
There are also multiple voices to choose from to further customize Siri. There are five American voices to choose from, and they are identified by numbers, not genders, to provide better inclusion. Apple also offers voices in Austrailian, British, Indian, Irish, and South African.
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 casual 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. The Secure Element found in Apple's processors 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.
As of iOS 14, all text-to-speech recognition takes place on-device using the Neural engine. This means that features like dictation will take place locally without being sent off to a server for processing.
There was some concern over how voice data was being used by Apple, so the company introduced the ability for users to turn off certain diagnostic tools. Previously, recordings were sent to Apple for accuracy analysis, but now this is an opt-in only feature and transcriptions of interactions are used instead.
Shortcuts is the next stage 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.
At first, Apple distinguished manually controlled Shortcuts from voice-activated "Siri Shortcuts." A third category of Shortcuts was also used for Shortcuts that had been suggested by third-party apps.
Later, the different types of Shortcuts were combined into one format to reduce confusion. Now, all Shortcuts can be used via Siri by saying the Shortcut name as the command.
Apple updated several aspects of Shortcuts with iOS 14. Automations can run without user interaction, Shortcuts placed on the Home Screen no longer launch the Shortcuts app, and the Shortcuts app has folders for sorting Shortcuts.
The Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro brings Shortcut alerts up and out of the way. So, now users can see Shortcut automations as they occur without disruption.
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
The iPhone can learn to listen only for your voice, reducing accidental activations from commercials or other users.
If a user's 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." It allows you to raise your watch to your mouth and speak a command without saying the wake phrase. The feature first appeared on the Apple Watch Series 3.
When held, the Digital Crown will summon the assistant as well. This is a foolproof way of getting Siri's attention without the need of using a wake word or hand gesture. Users can disable this method if inadvertent activations are frequent.
The Apple Watch also has a dedicated Siri watch face, although Apple hasn't updated it much since release.
Airpods and Beats Pro
Devices with the H1 processor will read your incoming messages using "announce messages with Siri." Users can reply to these messages without saying the wake word.
When Siri is used by headphones of any kind, it is being controlled by the connected iPhone or iPad rather than relying on an integrated headphone-based Siri.
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.
Using the assistant in the car allows for safe hands-free controls like making a call or getting directions. Interactions via CarPlay limit the interactions to voice-only so the driver isn't distracted.
Siri on the Apple TV has limited functionality. To use the assistant on Apple TV, hold down the Siri button on the Siri 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.
HomePod and HomePod mini
Siri is the primary user interface with HomePod. You can summon the assistant with "Hey Siri" or by long-pressing the glass surface 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 the assistant 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 toward 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.
Apple updated Siri on a beta version of iOS 14.5 with new English-speaking voices, but more importantly, the update removed gender identifiers from the voices. Users will also be given a choice at setup rather than defaulting to a specific voice sound. These announcements were made on the International Transgender Day of Visibility.
iOS 15.4 adds another non-gendered voice to the English-speaking Siri.
The Future of Siri
Apple discontinued the HomePod in 2021 without a replacement device at the ready. Some feared that Apple would step away from the smart assistant race and abandon the smart speaker market altogether.
However, Apple introduced a new large HomePod in January 2023. Even as other companies like Amazon are toning down their commitment to smart assistants, Apple is doubling down with new hardware.
Besides the general improvements to voice recognition and processing, Apple hasn't introduced many new features to its smart assistant since iOS 14. Offline commands work better with iOS 15, and iOS 16 improved Shortcuts actions.
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