Along with the announcement of the iPhone 15, Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 9 this week. It was a relatively small iterative update, but one feature in particular caught my attention: Offline Siri.
Siri can be frustrating at the best of times, but it’s especially bad on the Apple Watch due to its unstable network connections. A long pause and a declaration of “working on it” is a very common experience. Offline Siri could make this a thing of the past with the Apple Watch Series 9.
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The way Siri has worked so far is that you’ll speak into your Watch’s microphone, your audio samples will be transcribed into text on the device, but that text will be stored in Apple’s Siri Server cloud for interpretation. It will be necessary to send it to. The watch must wait for a response before it is able to execute your request.
It didn’t matter if what you were asking was trivial or obvious, even for the simplest of queries, the Watch needed to talk to the server to actually respond to your request. And the watch’s network connection is slow and unreliable.
The Watch falls back to Bluetooth relay via the iPhone whenever possible to maximize power efficiency, but it’s not the fastest method of wireless networking. Out of range of the iPhone, the situation is even worse because you’re then at the mercy of the Watch’s small and weak Wi-Fi and/or cellular radio.
This is where the Series 9 could be a big step forward and make the Siri loading spinner a thing of the past. Backed by the increased power of the S9 chip, Apple is running natural language machine learning models on the watch itself, so some queries can be handled completely offline without talking to a server. The watch is no longer dependent on a poor internet connection, which should dramatically speed up common tasks.
I’m relatively confident that it will work as advertised as Apple has already begun making similar changes to Siri on iPhones starting in 2021, which will improve response times and privacy.
A big question is what types of “basic” queries the Watch will be able to handle on its own, and which ones will still need to be relegated to server-side processing. That list has not been confirmed yet. We’ll find out for sure when the Series 9 launches next week, but I’m confident the two things I really care about will be covered – starting a workout and setting a timer. Apple used Workout as a Siri demo during the keynote, so it’s already confirmed.
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