• November 15, 2013
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Apple Upgrades Siri in Latest iPhone, iOS Releases

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Apple sold more than 9 million units of its latest iPhone 5c and 5s during its weekend launch in late September. In addition to 200 new features, the company spruced up Siri, its embedded voice-enabled personal assistant, with some improvements.

For starters, Apple has given Siri a redesigned interface that fades into view on top of whatever the user is looking at when he invokes Siri, either by lifting the iPhone to his ear or pressing the "home" button for two seconds. A line then appears on the screen and turns into a sound wave that mimics his voice pattern when he begins talking. It's Siri's way of telling him that it is listening.

In the United States, Siri has always been female, while iPhone users in the United Kingdom have always heard a male voice. Now male and female voices are included in English, French, and German versions.

Siri has also become more worldly and now supports 19 languages and regional dialects, including three variations of Chinese; U.S., U.K., Canadian, and Australian English; German; Italian; Japanese; Korean; and Mexican, European, and U.S. Spanish.

Apple claims the upgraded Siri is faster at answering questions, and more accurate through improved speech recognition. Siri also searches more locations, including Bing, Wikipedia, and Twitter, for the answers to users' queries.

Siri can also take on more tasks, such as controlling more device settings, checking for missed calls and returning calls, playing voicemail, posting to social media sites, and controlling iTunes Radio. Users can search Twitter to see what someone is saying; Siri can pull up individual accounts and present the most recent tweets from those accounts. Additionally, users can search for images using Siri, make dinner reservations with an OpenTable integration, and check product and service reviews with an integrated Yelp application.

Users can also change the way Siri pronounces words. If you don't like the way Siri says a proper name, you can change it by telling Siri "That's not how you pronounce that." Siri asks for the proper pronunciation, listens, and tries to re-create it. It will present three ways it can say it, and the user can choose the best option.

Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst, says the Siri upgrades "are very good," and calls them "a blend of both real improvement and cosmetic changes."

Bill Meisel, executive director of the Applied Voice Input/Output Society (AVIOS) and president of speech consulting firm TMA Associates, noted in a recent blog post that "since Siri does its speech recognition and natural language interpretation in the cloud, it is constantly improved."

Meisel also alluded to a new tap-to-edit feature that allows for text entry. This, he said, "would make Siri useful when one can't speak, something necessary if the personal assistant becomes increasingly perceived as a primary user interface."

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