LOS ANGELES — For years, Apple has used the stage of its Worldwide Developers Conference to announce upgrades to the Siri personal assistant that would make it more useful.
This year’s plan, according to a Siri trick Apple has put out there: Siri will be smarter, get a new look and a new voice.
Ask Siri to tell you about the WWDC conference, which starts June 4th in San Jose, and you get one of three answers both in audio and written form.
—“I’m gonna have a shiny new home. Well, not really shiny, more meshy and matte.”
—”La, la, la, Siri is getting a brand new voice.”
—”I don’t want to brag, but I’m getting a lot smarter. It might be all that late night studying I’ve been doing.”
If readers feel like they’ve read this before, welcome to the club. Apple’s been saying similar stuff for years.
The WWDC is when Apple welcomes app developers to hear about what’s new with the iPhone maker, delivers previews of the IOS mobile operating system update and hypes them on creating great apps to take advantage of the new features.
What Apple promised about Siri at past WWDC’s:
— 2013. Siri would get a new interface and a smoother voice,
—2014 Apple brought hands-free Siri operation to iPhones and iPads (say “Hey, Siri,” to wake it up)
—2015. A move to make Siri more “proactive” to answer questions without excessive prompting.
—2016, Apple announced a new initiative that it promised would really make Siri a more helpful tool — the ability to marry Siri with third-party apps like Uber and Circle. At the time, Apple said opening Siri outside of just Apple apps would make usage more widespread. But few app developers signed on.
—2017. The HomePod, Apple’s answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home connected speakers, was introduced at WWDC, with Apple touting on-command music selection via Siri and the Apple Music subscription service.
Apple had no comment on this year’s plans.
The personal assistant was first introduced in October 2011 as a feature of the then new iPhone 4S. Cutting edge at the start, in more recent years its repeated stumbles have made it the frequent butt of late-night comics’ jokes. This bad rap has persisted even as Siri has become more useful and smart — rivals like Google Assistant and Amazon’s Echo seem to beat it in the realm of understanding conversation and responding in kind.
It’s the most widely used personal assistant, due to the size of the billion-plus iPhone universe, but most studies show the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa to be smarter and more useful. In a recent USA TODAY test, we asked the same 150 questions to Google, Alexa and Siri, and saw accurate response rates of 80%, 78% and 55%, respectively.
At Google’s I/O developer conference in May, the Internet giant announced that severalnew voices would be forthcoming from the Google Assistant over the summer, including the tones of singer John Legend.
Google also showed off a new use for a personal assistant — making phone calls to set up appointments at hair salons and restaurants directly from the Google Assistant app. Siri is still struggling to answer more questions verbally, without having to say, “This is what I found on the Web.”