multiple Siri's

My Biggest Hope for Siri at WWDC 2016

I recently published a blog post containing my predictions for Apple’s WWDC 2016. I touched on some of my wishes for all of their current hardware devices and operating systems that run on them. What I mention here isn’t necessarily a prediction, but rather a hope – or a plea – for something that I think is drastically needed.

Whereas one of my long shot predictions centered around a new hardware device that acts as a speaker or hub for the home, and is completely governed by Siri, this request – I think – can be much simpler than that. I don’t think it requires a new device, though I admittedly have no idea about how complex it could be to make it work.

What I want is for when I say “Hey, Siri!” that only the nearest or current device that I’m using responds!

Right now in my house, I have an iPhone 6S, an iPad Pro, my wife’s iPad Air 2, and her iPhone 5S. Two of those devices (the 6S and iPad Pro) have “always-on Hey Siri,” while the other two have it active only when the device is charging. The iPhone 6S only responds to my voice, though all of the other devices will respond to whatever voice speaks the “Hey Siri” command. It is not uncommon for the 5S and Air 2 (the older two devices) to require more frequent charges, and so will be plugged in. All of these devices will frequently be in the same room. So, a worst case example of what can happen right now is that, using my own voice, I will trigger all four devices to respond to my “Hey Siri!”

This is not helpful. And it gives the illusion of there being multiple Siri assistants, when I don’t think that should be how we view Siri.

(And I imagine it only getting more confusing if, as rumoured, Siri comes to the Mac next. If the function works the same way as on iOS devices, then we might assume that “Hey Siri” will also come over, and will work on the Mac while it is being powered.)

First of all, the devices don’t all reply with a perfectly synchronized voice. There is always a delay on some of the devices. So, even if all of them are saying the same thing, the reverberation or echo effect I get means that the response is next to useless to me. Secondly, and to complicate matters further, “Hey Siri” does not have an amazing track record for accuracy, so more often than not, at least one of the devices will hear me wrong. What happens is that I suddenly feel like I’m in the middle of a room hearing multiple conversations, unable to parse what any one in particular is saying.

I am not a programmer and don’t claim to have any idea of what goes into making these extraordinary devices work as well as I do. But in my mind, here is an idea: have all of the devices that get triggered initiate some kind of rapid communication between them that designates one device as the “responder.” How this responder device gets chosen could happen in a few ways. If I’m using one of the devices at the time, then clearly that device could take command and override any of the others. Alternately, if I just walk into a room and shout my command without actually using any device, then proximity could be assigned by how loudly my voice is detected. Nearer devices will detect my voice louder than devices on the other side of the room. All the devices can hear me, have a brief conversation amongst themselves about which unit heard me the loudest, and then only that device would respond to me.

I have no idea if this particular idea would work, but I know that there is a solution out there somewhere!

Siri Doesn’t Work In iOS 9.0

Like many people around the world, when Apple released their iOS 9.0 update last week, I jumped to update my iPhone. So many of the features are awesome, and I can’t wait to test out some of the new devices! However, one unexpected side effect of my early update to iOS 9.0 was that I have lost a functioning Siri! Here’s what I can figure out.

I first noticed that Siri wasn’t working when I was not getting turn-by-turn navigation directions in Maps. I found that odd, but since I was driving at the time, I was not able to investigate any further. However, I did also notice that my “Hey Siri, what are my upcoming appointments?” command flashed something on the screen briefly, though I did not get the usual audible response.

When I got home, I tried some more things. I tried to plot a new course in Maps, and once again, I had no Siri directions. When I tried asking for upcoming appointments, I could see that the Siri screen did come up and it had the text that she would usually read aloud (i.e. you have an appointment tomorrow at 10 AM).

Since I had gone through the voice training to enable the updated version of “Hey Siri,” I thought that maybe this had messed things up somehow. So, I disabled it. That did not solve my problem, nor did reenabling and retraining it.

I flipped through the options on the Siri settings page. I tried tapping on each of the different voices, but each time I selected a new one, I heard “Hi, I’m Siri, your personal assistant” with whichever accent or gender I had chosen. So this didn’t seem to solve things. However, I inadvertently left Siri on the British female voice, and continued my testing, and then realized that I had my responsive Siri back!

I tried a bunch of questions and commands, and each time, she responded as I would have expected her to all along, albeit with this new, different voice. I have always had the default American female Siri voice. When I switched it back and then tried all these commands again, I got the same quiet Siri again. I found that male or female of British or Australian Siri worked fine, though neither the American male and female voice work properly.

So, to make a long story short. I updated my iPhone 5S to iOS 9.0. In doing so, my female American Siri became non-responsive, with no obvious way to make her talk again. By changing the voice, I was able to get vocal responses again, though never in the same American female (or male) voice that I am accustomed to. So, it seems to me that there is a bug in this new, upgraded Siri, specifically in the American settings. Hopefully they fix it quickly in the next iOS update! Maybe it’s a device-specific bug, as it seems that she works the same as before on my wife’s iPhone 5 and our iPads…

Have you noticed this same bug? Does Siri still work for you, the same as always? Let me know in the comments!