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Apple acquires virtual assistant maker VocalIQ to bolster Siri’s conversational skills


In an effort to strengthen Siri’s natural language conversation abilities, Apple has acquired a UK-based firm called VocalIQ. Business Weekly was first to report the acquisition today and Apple confirmed the purchase to The Financial Times with the usual boilerplate statement: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Apple’s purchase of VocalIQ is especially interesting for a couple reasons as noted by the report. First, the team behind VocalIQ believes their voice assistant is superior to Apple’s, writing in a blog post that Siri launched to much hype then settled into being used only as a toy.

VocalIQ also has experience in using machine learning to create conversational virtual assistants … for use in cars. Apple of course has its own iPhone-connected CarPlay feature, which makes using iPhone-based services like Messages and Maps safer using voice and on-screen controls, and CarPlay could greatly improve with some newly learned skills for Siri.

But the worst kept secret out of Cupertino this year is Apple’s ambitions to ship an electric car as soon as four years from now. 9to5Mac has reported on a number of the hires Apple has working on the team. Dubbed Project Titan, Apple’s car plans could greatly benefit from a souped up, more conversational Siri that makes CarPlay look like a trial run.

FT notes that VocalIQ has previous experience with in-car applications of its virtual assistant, even partnering with General Motors in the past. Now Apple can integrate that team into Siri and any future endeavors. Note, too, that Siri itself was an acquisition before launching with the iPhone 4s in 2011.

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  1. twelve01 - 7 years ago

    Always happy to see development on this front. Siri has come along way, though progress has been gradual.. Since getting the watch, I find myself using Siri more and more on the phone.

    • Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

      Yeah, I use Siri for making/deleting appointments and alarms. It works great for that. I use Siri for a couple of other things too. It’s just getting used to asking a computer instead of just using the app and typing things in. It’s a different mindset and paradigm shift we are going through.

  2. Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

    It would be great to be able to conduct an actual conversation complete with slang, anecdotal stories, little friendly teasing with Siri. :-)

  3. Devin Sloan - 7 years ago

    Wait, is that a Corolla with Carplay? Is it a 3rd party deck?

  4. Franco (@frngr) - 7 years ago

    Damn. I’m still waiting for Watson+Siri.

  5. johnnycanadian - 7 years ago

    Good! Siri has been lagging behind the Google “intelligent assistant” for some time now; hopefully this will improve the Apple offering to at least where Google is now.

  6. airmanchairman - 7 years ago

    Slow and steady wins the race. I’ve watched Siri grow in capability and allowed it to learn my preferences through constant use, and it shows, subtly but surely.

    An old app, Night Stand, not updated for years now, always used to start up in portrait mode on my iPad 3. I always invoke it (using Siri) after setting an alarm at a particular time. Prior to iOS 8.4.1, I would have to physically rotate the iPad to get Night Stand in landscape mode; after 8.4.1, Siri would run the app, then “auto-rotate” it to landscape mode without my intervention (surprising/delighting me the first time); and now, after iOS 9, the app actually displays immediately in landscape, no “animation” any more.

    Iteration, iteration, iteration…

  7. airmanchairman - 7 years ago

    Siri sets alarms, runs apps, sends emails and messages, identifies songs playing on TV, brings up bios of films, TV programs, actors and actresses, converts currencies and units of various properties like temperature, speed and pressure, defines words and expressions (like “irony”, “iconoclasm” etc), and countless other useful functions, faster than anything other than my own immediate memory, mental calculation (both limited) and home screen icon taps.

  8. Winski - 7 years ago

    And yet, this simpleton garbagebag full of random code can’t even play a local video on my local device…. Back in the box bitch….


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.