Apple today announced plans to introduce a feature called shortcuts that gives iOS users the ability to create custom voice commands with Siri that can connect with any app. Shortcuts will also let you carry out multiple commands with a single utterance, much like Routines introduced for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.
Shortcuts can be created both inside an app or with the new Shortcuts app, and they can be accessed both on iPhones and iPads, as well as the Apple Watch and HomePod smart speaker.
For example, you can create a “Heading home” shortcut that changes your home temperature, tells you about your commute, and plays your favorite podcast. Siri can also suggest shortcuts, like call grandma on her birthday or turn on Do Not Disturb mode when you enter a movie theater.
The news was announced today at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) being held June 4-8 in San Jose, California, which focused primarily on major software updates like ARKit 2.0 with support for play with up to four people in an augmented reality experience, and iOS 12 with app launch, keyboard display, and camera deployment. Also coming soon are personalized emojis and group FaceTime for video chat with up to 32 people.
watchOS 5 and updates to the Siri watch face for Apple Watch were also announced today, and now users to no longer have to say “Hey, Siri” to interact with the assistant. Instead, they just use the gesture of moving their watch and wrist toward their mouth to ask a question.
“Those shortcuts you saw coming to iOS 12 are also going to be available on watchOS,” said Apple VP Kevin Lynch. “So in addition to getting relevant information, you’ll also receive predictive shortcuts right on the Siri watch face so on a wrist raise you’ll be able to do things like turn on a leaving home scene or start an outdoor walk or play your favorite morning playlist, and these shortcuts appear based on when you typically do those actions at those times, so it’s super easy now to just tap and do those actions.”
Last year at WWDC Siri got on-the-spot translation capabilities and a more expressive voice. Apple’s SiriKit for connecting apps with the virtual assistant also made changes in 2017 to allow productivity and banking apps to add items to to-do lists or help you pay bills.
Shortcuts is the latest way for iOS app developers to connect with Siri, following the introduction of SiriKit in 2016 for a limited range of use cases.
Also at WWDC last year: Apple unveiled the HomePod, added a Siri watch face for the Apple Watch, and introduced iOS 11. With iOS 11, Siri got app suggestions for personalization in native iOS apps like News, Mail, Messages, and Safari apps.
Now roughly seven years old, Siri has gone from an assistant only on the iPhone to being available on virtually every Apple device.
In that time, Siri has gone from a promising new feature to an assistant surpassed in features and performance by the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, and in the months leading up to this year’s WWDC, Siri was openly criticized by some of its creators. In March, Siri cofounder Norman Winarsky said he’s surprised by how much Siri is still unable to do, and he opined that the assistant was stifled by a lack of reliability and Apple’s ambitions and poor execution.
Shortly thereafter, people familiar with the matter also expressed disappointment that Siri suffered for years due to a lack of steady management, as well as inflexible code that made it tough to add new features or third-party support.
Apple has made a series of hires to help Siri compete with conversational AI assistants like Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. After a slow start to HomePod sales this spring, Apple’s Siri division sought to hire more than 150 engineers and managers, a seemingly unprecedented rate of hiring for the team.
Just days after news of Apple’s hiring spree emerged, the world learned that Apple hired Google’s longtime AI chief John Giannandrea, who played a role in the spread of AI throughout Google’s line of apps and products, as well as the creation of Google Assistant.
This follows news last fall that Apple OS chief VP Craig Federighi took over leadership of Apple’s Siri team from VP Eddy Cue.
Updated 11:34 a.m. June 4 to include additional information about Siri shortcuts on watchOS 5.