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Rachel Metz

A View from Rachel Metz

With Updates, Siri Will (Hopefully) Be Brainier

Siri, Apple’s Digital Assistant, will attempt to figure out what you want before you want it.

  • June 8, 2015

Siri, often maligned for her limits as a digital personal assistant, is getting smarter.

Siri is getting some new skills when it comes to reminders, search, and anticipating information you need.

Speaking on stage at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said that with the newest version of Apple’s iOS mobile software, which will be released in the fall, Siri will gain the ability to respond to more nuanced commands. For instance, users will be able to say things like, “Show me photos from Utah last August” to pull up pictures of a canyoneering trip, or, “Remind me about this when I get home” to have your phone bug you about a specific website when you get to your house.

Siri is also getting more proactive, Federighi said. If your phone notices that you tend to listen to music with your headphones when you go running in the morning or when you get in your car, he said, it can start offering up “now playing” music when you plug in your headphones or get in the vehicle. This proactive advice also extends to appointments, as it will let you know when you need to leave to get to your next meeting by considering traffic at the time. And within iOS’s universal search, Siri will suggest people to contact or apps to open, based on your habits.

If these features work as shown in the demos, they could be a boon to those of us who are creatures of habit; I’d love my music, at least, to turn on during my morning commute or regular weekend bike rides.

Developers gained access to a beta version of iOS 9 on Monday, and a public beta is coming in July. The additions bring Siri’s capabilities closer to those of Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, and show Apple’s insistence on making it a key way to interact with its mobile gadgets, especially the recently released Apple Watch, which has a tiny display and no built-in keyboard. As we become increasingly reliant on gadgets, some of them attached to our bodies, we need cleverer ways to interact with them, and Apple, like some of its rivals, seems to understand this.

Yet while Siri is getting smarter, it still has a ways to go when it comes to actually understanding what you want it to do; Federighi said the service, which receives a billion requests per week, has reduced its word-error rate by 40 percent in the last year to 5 percent. That sounds great, but 5 percent is still a pretty big error rate considering how Apple has positioned Siri as an indispensable assistant on the iPhone and iPad and the only way to get some things done on the Apple Watch (like reply to an e-mail, another feature Apple announced Monday as part of an update to its WatchOS, a new version of which is also coming in the fall).

The work yet to be done was on display during a demo for the company’s new Apple Music subscription service, when when Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, asked Siri to play the song from the movie Selma. It didn’t get the message, though, and started playing the song “Selene” by the band Imagine Dragons. Cue tried again, and, this time, Siri understood, cueing up “Glory” by Common and John Legend.

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