Siri won't default to female voice, two new voices added
Apple has added two new voice options to its voice assistant Siri. Users will get to select a Siri voice of their choice when they set up the service instead of having a default voice. These changes are currently available to developers as part of iOS 14.5 beta 6. Siri's new voices will likely be made available to the general public through iOS 14.5.
Siri's default voice must be configured during setup
Earlier, Siri would default to a female voice in most parts of the world, with a male voice being the default in some regions. Siri appears to be the first among popular Big Tech voice assistants to make the choice agnostic, right from the get-go. Apple said that the two new voices for English were a continuation of its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Here's what the new Siri voices sound like
Here’s a recording of Siri’s new lineup of American voices in iOS 14.5. Voices 1 and 4 are the existing ones, voices 2 and 3 are the new ones. pic.twitter.com/6emei4B3Z9— John Gruber (@gruber) April 1, 2021
Underlying tech for Siri's voice upgraded in some regions
The two new voices reportedly use source talent recordings which have been processed by Apple's Neural text-to-speech (TTS) engine. The processing helps voices change intonation and flow organically like normal speech. The iOS version 14.5 beta 6 also upgrades Siri voices in Ireland, Russia, and Italy to the Neural TTS. Now, Apple has 38 voices that use this new technology.
What's Neural TTS and how many people even use Siri?
Neural TTS relies on machine learning to generate synthesized speech that flows like the human voice, albeit using text as an input. Siri reportedly handles 25 billion requests on a monthly basis, is supported on over 500 million devices, and supports 21 languages.
UNESCO report alleged that Siri's default voice promoted gender bias
Notably, Siri's new voices are available in male and female versions. In 2019, a UNESCO report alleged that by defaulting Siri to a female voice, Apple promoted gender bias reportedly conveying that women are "obliging, docile, and eager-to-please helpers". The report notes that Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa also default to a female voice and don't even have an alternative male voice to choose from.
Microsoft has pulled the plug on its Siri rival, Cortana
In a related instance, Microsoft has pulled the plug on its Cortana voice assistant popularized by Windows 10 and the Halo game series, probably due to ever-growing competition from Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. Another significant update that Apple packed into iOS 14.5 beta 6 is a tool that automatically recalibrates a device's battery if Battery Health discovers inaccurate peak performance or unexpected drain.