Apple’s patent application could fix a major problem with Siri


Some Apple iPhone users find themselves struggling with Siri. Besides some of the usual things that we’ve brought up in the past, such as Siri’s inability to understand the questions we’ve asked her, or the incorrect answers that she comes up with (especially when they are related to an inquiry about Apple devices-a category that she should know about), Siri also has a habit of activating accidentally. Last year, we told you that these accidental activations were more likely to occur on the Apple Watch and the HomePod smart speaker.

Patent reveals how Apple plans to “fix” one of Siri’s issues

According to a new patent application that Apple filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the company is working on technology that will keep accidental Siri activations to a minimum. The patent application, titled “Attention Aware Virtual Assistant Dismissal,” uses criteria to determine how interested you are in receiving a response from the digital assistant. To do this, Siri could use cameras to check your gaze when calling out for the digital assistant.

For example, if you’re looking exactly at your iPhone when calling out for Siri, the iPhone will realize that you did indeed mean to activate the digital assistant by using the “Hey Siri” hotword. At the same time, it increases the odds that you did mean to say “Hey Siri” and not “Tom and Jerry,” or “Very Hairy.” Some claim that the sound of a zipper opening causes Siri to accidentally open, but we’re not sure that the technology expressed in the patent application can determine the motive of a zipper.

Besides staring at the phone when activating Siri, the length of the stare also plays a part in determining whether an iPhone user really wants help from Siri. For example, let’s say that you’re staring at your phone, execute the “Hey Siri” hotword, and then get distracted by someone before you give Siri a question or task to do. If the iPhone can determine that your intention was indeed to give your digital assistant a task, Siri could be told by the system not to deactivate so that you can give the assistant the task you want her to handle.

Besides being annoying, accidental Siri activations can also negatively affect the battery running an iPhone. Siri will be more efficient if it deactivates when the user is not engaged with it, if it doesn’t deactivate while being used, or if a task has to be repeated because Siri was accidentally deactivated. Apple notes that by using Siri more quickly and efficiently, power usage is reduced and battery life is improved.

Apple expressed this in the patent by saying, “Determining, based on data obtained using one or more sensors of the electronic device, whether one or more criteria representing expressed user disinterest are satisfied (and/or whether one or more criteria representing expressed user engagement are satisfied) allows determination of whether a user is engaged with a virtual assistant session. Knowing whether a user is engaged allows intelligent decision making about whether to deactivate the virtual assistant session.

For example, if the user is not engaged, a device can deactivate the virtual assistant session to save battery and processing power. As another example, if the user is engaged, the device can forgo deactivating the virtual assistant session so the user can continue interacting with the virtual assistant session (and so the virtual assistant session does not deactivate while the user is still interacting with it). In this manner, the user-device interface is made more efficient (e.g., by deactivating a virtual assistant session when a user is not engaged with it, by preventing deactivation of a virtual assistant session while the user is actively engaged with it, or by reducing user input to re-initiate an incorrectly deactivated virtual assistant session) which additionally, reduces power usage and improves the battery life of the device by enabling the user to use the device more quickly and efficiently.”

Some will say that Siri has many more issues to work on. In iOS 14, Siri will take up much less of the screen when employed by a user and the assistant will be able to send voice messages. If the patent is approved, at least one annoying and inefficient tendency of Safari could be ended.


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