Apple Aims to Improve Siri as Part of iOS 11 Rollout

In the wake of last week’s ballyhooed introduction of the Apple 4K TV, the iPhone X, the iPhone 8/8S, and a new Apple Watch, Apple has begun rolling out its new iOS 11 operating system to iPhone and iPad users and has reorganized and redesigned the App Store from the ground up.

The company has also reworked Siri to give the virtual assistant a more natural voice and new capabilities.

As Apple explains it, “Talking to Siri is an easier, faster way to get things done…With a redesigned interface and new, more expressive voice, Siri is more powerful than ever. And the more you use Siri, the better it knows what you need at any moment.”

That Apple is aiming to improve Siri is a no-brainer as it prepares to roll out its HomePod smart speaker in December, which faces stiff competition from Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant in the rapidly expanding world of smart speakers where virtual assistants are king.

The use of proprietary algorithms that identify the sounds people make when they pronounce a word in natural language (known as phonemes) has made Siri more natural sounding, according to Apple.

In iOS 11, the new Siri now appears onscreen as a floating orb while speaking and is able to perform on-the-spot translations from English to Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, French, and German. The improved Siri can also make recommendations, suggesting stories to read based on internet searches and reading habits, for example.

Apple has also upgraded SiriKit, which enables developers to integrate apps with Siri, so that it can now make payments, answer questions about personal finances, interact with productivity apps such as Todoist, and scan QR codes, among other things.

Despite the many improvements Apple has made to Siri, has it done enough to take on Amazon and Google?

VentureBeat’s John Brandon conducted a series of tests using Siri and concluded that Siri still has a ways to go. “After testing it for an entire day since Tuesday’s iOS 11 release, mostly on an iPad 9.7-inch and an iPhone 7 Plus, it’s obvious Siri is not a major priority for the company, even if some of the features are improved,” Brandon wrote. “What has changed is a good sign; what hasn’t makes Siri behind the times.”

Focusing on dialogue, Brandon said, “Siri still shows a lot of web pages.” Compared with Alexa and Google Assistant, “it doesn’t really know how to converse.”

Siri also fell short in trying to parse out meaning, Brandon noted: “When I said “Play my favorite type of music,” Siri thought I wanted to play a favorites mix on iTunes. On the other hand, Alexa played music by The Boxer Rebellion, which is likely because I listen to that artist a lot.”

Brandon ultimately judged Google Assistant to be better at context than Siri. “I’ve had conversations about cities and sports teams before, and it just works better with Google,” he concluded.