Apple ends default choice of female voice for Siri, as Microsoft pulls plug on Cortana for Android and iOS
Apple is adding two new voices to its Siri virtual assistant in English, and is eliminating the tool’s default selection of a female voice.
The change is introduced in the latest beta version of iOS, which became available to testers last week.
Users setting up Siri will now select the voice they wish to use, with neither male nor female being specified.
Apple said the change supports “diversity and inclusion”.
‘Diversity and inclusion’
“We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device,” the company said.
“This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
In some countries and languages Siri already defaults to a male voice, but this is the first time the user has been given the choice of voices by default.
The two new voices, which are in American English, run text through Apple’s new Neural text-to-speech engine.
The latest iOS beta version also shifts the Siri voices in Ireland, Russia and Italy to the Neural engine, bringing the total worldwide that support the engine to 38.
Apple said Siri handles 25 billion requests per month on more than 500 million devices, supporting 21 languages in 36 countries.
The tool competes with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, which dominate the market for smart speakers.
Microsoft officially ended support for its Cortana virtual assistant on Android and iOS last week, the latest move in its phase-out of Cortana’s consumer features.
Microsoft is looking to refashion the virtual assistant, which was named after an AI in the Halo video game series, as a productivity tool.
It added that reminders, lists and tasks from the service are synced to the Microsoft To Do mobile app.
Windows Phone-era feature
Microsoft introduced its virtual assistant in 2014 as a feature in Windows Phones. The company stopped making its own smartphone operating system in 2017, but continued making the Cortana mobile app for other platforms.
Voice-activated virtual assistants became something of a craze on smart speakers, but Microsoft’s version was supported by only one – the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, announced in 2017.
After announcing Cortana’s refocus last summer, Microsoft ended Cortana support on the Invoke speaker in January, offering speaker owners a $50 (£36) Microsoft gift card.
About a year ago the company also announced the end of support for Cortana’s consumer-focused “skills”, or voice commands, including music, connected home features and third-party skills. The change took effect in June of last year.
The virtual assistant is still built into productivity tools such as Outlook and Teams.