Apple unveiled its voice assistant Siri back in 2011, but tech critics say Siri has fallen behind competitors like Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Voice. It did not help matters last month when Google demonstrated Google Voice’s ability to call up businesses and perfectly mimic a human.
At its annual WWDC developer conference on Monday, Apple rolled out improvements that it hopes will help Siri close the gap.
A new Siri app on iOS 12 called Shortcuts allows you to create verbal commands that will lead Siri to perform a number of functions you pre-program. For example, you can hop into the car and say “heading home,” and Siri will tell you how much time you have left in your drive, turn on your thermostat at home (using Apple’s HomeKit), and turn on the radio station you prefer for your drive. In another example Apple engineering exec Kim Beverett gave, you could say “travel plans” and get a reminder of your itinerary, how long it will take to get to the airport, and the weather where you’re headed.
There are also a number of prompts Siri will now offer automatically in iOS12: Siri will suggest that you text the meeting organizer if you’re running late for a meeting, or remind you to change your phone to “do not disturb” mode if it knows you’re at a movie theatre.
Shortcuts will also appear in watchOS 5, the next interface for Apple Watch. Siri will “get better at predicting your preferences over time,” Apple tech VP Kevin Lynch said in a presentation focused on Apple Watch.
Siri on Apple Watch can turn on your “leaving home” settings in your house (via HomeKit), or play your morning playlist on the watch. The shortcuts “appear based on whether you typically do those activities at those times,” Lynch explained.
The effort with all of this is clear: to make Siri a more seamless voice assistant that you eventually use and interact with each day.
“Siri is more than just a voice,” Apple SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi said on stage. “Siri is working all the time in the background to make proactive suggestions for you before you ask.”
The changes to Siri will be especially significant as the smart speaker race heats up, with Amazon Echo enjoying a wide lead over Google Home, and Apple HomePod, which was late to the market, still far behind.
Daniel Roberts covers tech at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.