The 2015 Speech Industry Star Performers: Apple

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Apple Improves, Expands to Wearables

Through a number of technology upgrades, the speech recognition capability of Apple's Siri mobile assistant now has a 5 percent word error rate, Apple claims. That level of accuracy is important, given how busy Siri has been. The company says Siri now handles more than 1 billion requests per week.

That number is sure to expand as Apple takes Siri on the road—literally. Apple has begun working with leading automakers to bring Siri's capabilities to in-car navigation, entertainment, and communications systems. With Siri Eyes Free, an automobile telematics offering that will come standard in many Chrysler 2016 models, drivers can speak natural language voice commands to send text messages, play music, set reminders, place phone calls, and access turn-by-turn directions. A similar product, Apple CarPlay, is bringing the same capabilities to several GMC truck models in 2016.

But of all the new uses for Siri, perhaps the most groundbreaking is the Apple Watch, which became available in the spring. Apple is only one entrant in a rapidly growing market that in 2014 saw 6.8 million smart watches sold by 89 companies in 18 countries, according to researchers at the Smartwatch Group.

ABI Research expects the smart watch market to undergo 300 percent growth this year, with the Apple Watch expected to take 50 percent of the total share of the market. And Juniper Research says the Apple Watch "will be the benchmark for the category going forward."

Adding to its appeal is the large number of mobile apps developed either by Apple directly or by third-party providers. Apple has created its WatchKit program for developers to create apps specifically for the Apple Watch. Because of the watch's small display screen, voice is going to be a key interface for many of these apps.

Already, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest offer apps that enable users to manage their social media presence right from their wrists. Dictionary.com’s mobile app supports the Apple Watch; its Apple Watch app relies on the Siri personal assistant technology already incorporated in the Apple Watch and iPhone. The user simply says the word he wants to know about and Siri pulls up any relevant definitions, synonyms, pronunciations, etymologies, citations, photos, and other details from the Dictionary.com database of more than 2 million words.

And while Apple Watch is being marketed largely as a consumer device, it has appeal as a business tool as well. Here, too, the number of companion mobile apps will be key.

First out of the gate was Salesforce.com, which in late March announced Salesforce for Apple Watch. Goodsnitch wasn't far behind with its launch of Express Feedback for the Apple Watch, a free mobile app that lets users locate nearby businesses and provide real-time feedback on products, services, and employees. SAP also launched versions of its mobile business applications for the Apple Watch. And InMarket is looking to deepen the Apple Watch's integration with iBeacon with an app that enables the watch to work directly with its shopping app, List Ease. Others with apps already in the Apple Watch pipeline include American Airlines, Starwood Hotels, BMW, Honeywell, Lutron, and Nike.

These kinds of apps will form the basis for Apple Watch's long-term appeal, according to Jeff Kagan, a wireless industry analyst. "This kind of device will likely grow in popularity over the next several years," he says. "Over time, they will get more interesting and work with more partners in an increasing variety of ways." 

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