Android did it first: Siri won’t be dumb as a rock when you’re offline in iOS 15

In yet more “Android did it first” news, Apple has announced that Siri for iPhones will support on-device speech recognition, like recent Google’s Pixels have supported since the “next-gen” Assistant landed with the Pixel 4, though Apple is making its offline recognition the default setting in the name of user privacy. On top of that, though, Siri will support offline commands for basic functions, too — you know, like Google’s had since before the Assistant even existed.

Before this, Siri did support a very, very limited handful of offline controls for play, pause next/previous track, and repeat. Even more confusingly, iPhones have had a whole separate set of voice-based device controls that have worked offline since iOS 13, but they’re part of an accessibility feature that isn’t enabled by default called Voice Control.

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According to Apple’s changelog for iOS 15, Siri will be able to process requests offline that deal with Timers & Alarms, Phone, Messaging, Sharing, App Launch, Settings, and control audio playback. The Assistant supports a similar set of simple offline commands for opening apps, playing content, adding events, turning on your flashlight or Bluetooth, setting alarms, and placing calls — among a handful of other similar actions.

Pertinent details from the iOS 15 changelog.

Siri is also picking up Google-Assistant-style context for certain commands in the vein of continued conversation (Google: 2018) and the Assistant’s on-screen parsing (Google: 2019), allowing you to make requests more simply and naturally.

The on-device processing doesn’t just mean offline support; it also means that Siri will work faster and launch the apps you request or perform actions more quickly, presumably without waiting on the relatively “long” back-and-forth required to upload your command for parsing then pull down the action.

A word cloud of offline command possibilities. 

It remains to be seen if all supported iPhones will get offline voice support or if the feature might be limited to certain models. Google had to limit which devices got its offline voice recognition, presumably on the basis of performance, given it’s otherwise prone to port features back to older devices. Though there is no evidence as yet either way, given the difficulty in running the models required for voice recognition, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some devices that missed out on it — though Apple’s hardware is pretty powerful, and even older devices getting iOS 15 may be up to the task. We’ll have to wait and see.

Offline voice recognition is the default setting, too. 

We may poke fun about who did what first — and it’s usually Android/Google, even if Apple sometimes does it better — but Siri’s performance has been a point of contention for iDevice owners for a while, and additions like these help improve the experience. Still, the Google Assistant isn’t better at everything.

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