Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Disappointment of On-Device Siri

Federico Viticci:

The most important addition to Apple’s assistant this year is that, starting with iOS and iPadOS 15, Siri will work offline by default. As announced by Apple at WWDC, the Neural Engine can now process your requests locally, on-device, with the same quality of server-based speech recognition.

In practice, since the switch to offline processing, I haven’t noticed a degradation of quality in terms of how Siri interprets my requests, but it hasn’t gotten smarter than before either. I suppose this is good for Apple since, at the very least, moving away from server-based processing hasn’t made Siri worse.

Obviously, only some types of requests will work offline.

I don’t understand why creating reminders can’t work offline. I can see Siri transcribe everything I’ve said, but then it just stops and says that my phone needs to be online. I’m not asking it to do anything fancy like use a particular list or set a date.

I was also hoping that offline support would make the voice control features faster by eliminating server latency. That hasn’t happened, either. It can still take 10–15 seconds to pause music or a podcast, during which Siri gives me spoken feedback that it’s still working on my request. And, again, I can see on the screen that it correctly transcribed what I said right away. Why does it take so long to actually process it? It was faster and more consistent on-device before Siri, in the iPhone 4 days.

Timers work offline and are quicker than voice control, but they still feel slower than Alexa talking to the server. And there’s still only one.


5 Comments RSS · Twitter

My experience is polar opposite. I quickly abandoned even trying to use Siri on my iPhone 4S; it was truly awful in terms of transcription ability and request results. The first place it worked reliably was my HomePods, and I’ve been happy with it since. I have never once experienced the kind of latency — for instance in pausing music — described here; I wonder if something else is going on. Router issues?

My most common use of Siri is to perform basic math—"this minus that." It can't be done offline. Feels like its takes the "compute" out of "computer."

@Chris I’m not comparing with the initial version of Siri. Before Siri, there was an offline feature called Voice Control. It had limited features such as media playback controls, but the features that it did have worked consistently and relatively quickly. With Siri in iOS 15, pausing music is supposed to be an offline feature, so the network connection shouldn’t matter (and it works quickly for other apps and services).

I was under the impression with iPadOS 15 that I could dictate and pause for as long as I want (similar to leaving the display on indefinitely), i.e., open mic. But that has not been my experience.

I frequently use AirPods and “hey Siri” to ask what time it is while I’m on a walk, to make sure I get home in time for meetings without having to take my phone out of you pocket. I happen to live in an area with very bad cell service. Nothing is more frustrating than asking Siri what time it is and it saying “working on that…” and then, ten seconds later, “sorry, something went wrong”. The offline Siri feature seems really poorly implemented.

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