It’ll Take More Than a Voice Change to Improve Siri
This past week (March 28th — April 3rd), iOS 14.5 Beta 6 was released, demoing new voices for Siri.
Call me a pessimist: but I still don’t care about Siri.
The state of virtual assistants in my life
I absolutely love my Google Assistant. I use it for everything, even things that don’t even make sense, like simple math questions, opening apps, etc. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use it for smaller tasks, but since it’s right there- it just kinda makes things feel easier. Even if, in the end, it would be easier to use something else.
I have 4 (er- 5, really) Google Home devices (1 Google Nest Hub Mini, 1 Google Nest Mini, 2 Google Home minis, and my phone) in my studio. Yeah, you read that right; 4 Google Assistant devices all in one room. It can get hectic.
That said, it’s now (more than ever) so much easier to control different aspects of the assistant on each device, from the activation trigger sensitivity, to the volume, etc. It makes for a great surround-sound setup in the studio, and that’s honestly the biggest reason I use all of them.
When I’m watching a show on Netflix, or watching a video on YouTube, saying ‘Hey Google’ automatically lowers the volume on the media, and allows me to speak my request, get an answer or response, and raise the volume back. It just feels so seamless and thought-out.
On my phone, I have Google Assistant enabled, but I usually don’t use it on device as I use the GHome devices instead. I have them in all 4 corners of the studio, so no matter where I am, I’ll always have proximity to one of the microphones that can hear me best. Hence, no real reason to use it on the phone, unless there’s something specific I want to do, say, opening an app or turning on the flash light.
For my usage, it’s perfect. Great sound, quick access to smart home devices, etc. Again, seamless.
So what’s the problem, then?
Well, keep in mind, this article is about Siri. (Yeah, I know, 2 minutes about Google Assistant. It’s backstory, it’s important.)
So, let’s discuss the state of Siri in my life. I have an iPhone 6S+, an Apple Watch, an iPad, and a MacBook (hackBook), all which have Siri on them. Seems like a great solution to using a virtual assistant on the go, right? No.
See, Siri, to me, has always been a one-trick pony. It’s always that it can say or do this funny thing, but that’s about it. Sure it can give you the weather, set reminders, play some music, etc. However, to someone who doesn’t use all Apple services (i.e, me), it’s not a great experience. Especially considering the wide support for 3rd party services (specifically music ones) on the Google Assistant.
For example, I use YouTube Music primarily as my music streaming service of choice. I know, it’s not the social norm, but it’s what I use. The Google Assistant, being a, ahem, Google product, has vertical integration with YouTube Music. However, if you are an Apple Music subscriber, or even a Spotify subscriber, you can link those services to Google Assistant, and use them with no hassle.
Siri, on the other hand, doesn’t make it quite that easy. Within the last few months, iOS has added support for 3rd party music streaming services within Siri, however, it seems to be limited as to what exactly works, and while I do think that Apple will probably make it work better in the (near-ish) future, it still won’t be as native-feeling as using Apple Music with Siri.
Next example: notes. Oh my, Google Keep has my heart here. (I use a lot of Google services, can you really blame me?) Google Keep has been my notes app of choice for many years now, and although I’ve recently started using Walling.app, I still use Keep primarily as it’s a bit less ‘specific’ as to the notes you might want to take.
Funnily enough, I actually switched to Google Keep after I switched from iOS to Android, as it was waaay easier to sync notes between devices with Keep, versus Apple Notes, which I was using up until then. Seeing as there’s no true Apple Notes client on Windows or Android- Google Keep just seemed like the best option. I haven’t looked back since.
Back to Siri, good luck tapping into your Keep notes with it. Again, using full Apple services across the board comes in handy here. You can easily read and create new notes with Siri and Apple Notes, but the only Siri integration with Keep that you get is opening the app with Siri. (Correct me if I’m wrong here. I don’t use Shortcuts, but if there’s something in there, I’ll gladly update this part.)
The list just goes on and on. Reminders, Mail, Photos, Calendar, Video Calling, etc. Where I do use mainly Google services there, the point still stands that unless you use Apple services exclusively over anything else, you’ll have tough luck trying to get Siri to work with them.
Okay, okay, enough beating the horse. Let’s go back to the main topic.
Siri gets a (few) new voice(s)
Siri gains a few new voices, as well as some refinements to existing voices in iOS 14.5 beta 6, as well as making the names for the voices ‘gender neutral’, by using ‘Voice 1, Voice 2’, and so on instead of ‘Male’ or ‘Female’.
So, why don’t I care? Well, again, let’s look back to Google Assistant, arguably, Siri’s biggest competitor, aside from Amazon Alexa.
The Google Assistant has had multiple voices for at least as long as I can remember, and while they’re not as, say, diverse as the new ones, they have been there for a while. (And have you seen the cameos? John Legend, anyone?)
This means that, while it’s become a big deal to many people, in my eyes, it’s just another way for Apple to ‘block your vision’ of what is (again, arguably) Siri’s biggest problem today: usability.
Hardware: meet software.
See, I briefly mentioned hardware support earlier, but I didn’t make much of a big deal of it.
The biggest area of importance when it comes to virtual assistants is making your life easier, and this all (well, some) stemmed from smart home devices.
I have 3 smart lights in my studio (I think think the proper term is bedroom, I call it a studio), as well as a Roku TV that are all connected to Google Home, and by the transitive property, the Google Assistant.
So, let’s say I want to turn my TV and lights on. Simple. ‘Hey Google, turn my lights and TV on.’ Done. (Really, I use this command with frequency).
Maybe I want to dim the lights in the studio for late night work? ‘Hey Google, dim the lights to 30%’. Done.
It goes even further than that with Routines. Now, instead of turning the lights on at the same time every morning with the same command, I can have it automatically turn the lights on in the studio at 8:00 AM, and then turn them off at 10:00 PM (20:00) when I’m ready to go to bed. Seamless and simple. It takes less than 2 minutes to set up, and it even lets you pick what days of the week you want it to work. Perfect for skipping weekends, or for sleeping in.
There’s a ton of extra functionality built in here that I didn’t even cover, but you get the idea. Seamless integration of hardware and software, making things work for you.
Hardware: meet- Siri…
Okay, okay, I know. There’s Apple Home, and HomeKit. I get it. Just hear me out here.
I mentioned before that I have 3 smart-home lights in my studio, all controlled with the GHome app, or the Assistant.
Here’s the problem. Not one of the devices here are compatible with HomeKit. Not one. It becomes a problem when I lose the remote (which happens more frequently than I care to admit), and need to manually trigger the lights via a voice command.
The point of getting smart-lights is usually to control them via either an app on your phone, or using a voice assistant, and unless you get a IOT device compatible with HomeKit, you’re pretty much SOL using it with Siri or Apple Home.
For those who like numbers, Google Home supports over 50,000 devices from over 1,000 services. Compare that to HomeKit devices, and, well, it’s notoriously difficult to find a listing or number of HomeKit compatible devices. Thanks, Timmy. (If you can find any helpful or related information, send it my way, and I’ll add it here!)
So, unfortunately, unless a manufacturer specifically states that a device or service is compatible with HomeKit, good luck trying to get it to work.
Look, I don’t hate Siri, don’t get me wrong. There’s not currently a universal clock app (that I know of) that will sync your alarms and/or timers between devices, so using Siri to set alarms and timers is super handy, especially since it pings the watch as well.
Similarly, those smaller things that I mentioned in the beginning of this article, like opening apps, changing settings, or getting at the flashlight, are incredibly fast, since the processing happens on-device, which is something I can’t say for Google Assistant, or even Alexa for that matter.
Plus, the vertical integration with the watch and, well, all your other devices is just unprecedented, especially since you have Siri on the Mac, as opposed to, you know, Cortana on Windows. (I just died a little inside, trying to admit that Cortana is actually a voice assistant.)
However, in the end? Siri getting ‘new voices’ is still just another way for Apple to hide the fact that their assistant, as well as the majority of their other services, are just that; theirs. And they are not planning on changing or fixing that if they don’t have to, anytime soon.