Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Behind Siri’s New Voice

David Pierce, Wired (sorry):

This fall, when iOS 11 hits millions of iPhones and iPads around the world, the new software will give Siri a new voice. It doesn’t include many new features or tell better jokes, but you’ll notice the difference. Siri now takes more pauses in sentences, elongates syllables right before a pause, and the speech lilts up and down as it speaks. The words sound more fluid and Siri speaks more languages, too. It’s nicer to listen to, and to talk to.

Apple spent years re-architecting the technology behind Siri, transforming it from a virtual assistant into the catch-all term for all the artificial intelligence powering your phone. It has relentlessly expanded into new countries and languages (for all its faults, Siri’s by far the most worldly assistant on the market). And slowly at first but more quickly now, Apple has worked to make Siri available anywhere and everywhere. Siri now falls under the control of Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software, indicating that Siri’s now as important to Apple as iOS.

I’ll have a bit more to say about my experiences with Siri’s new voice when iOS 11 ships, but my impression closely matches Pierce’s: there’s something far nicer about it. It’s down to very subtle factors, as he points out: slight variations in the way words are said depending on what comes next, for example. These tweaks do far more than you’d expect; they’re not just cosmetic.

There’s something else in this piece, too, which I found quite revealing:

From the beginning, [Greg Jozwiak] says, Apple wanted Siri to be a get-shit-done machine. It drives him crazy that people compare virtual assistants by asking trivia questions, which always makes Siri look bad. “We didn’t engineer this thing to be Trivial Pursuit!” he says.

It doesn’t matter how Siri was engineered or what it was intended to do; what matters is how people actually use it for real. Because its UI is largely non-visual and Siri has always been marketed as something that can assist you with lots of tasks, people are going to try different things with it. Perhaps those comparison tests truly don’t show Siri’s best side, but they do show an area of deficiency that is reflected in the real world.