Virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now are having trouble hearing you

Virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Now are having trouble hearing you
How many times have you made a verbal request to the voice-activated virtual assistant on your phone, and ended up getting the answer to a question you didn't ask? Or even worse, the robotic voice from your device says that it could not understand the question. Don't blame your Boston accent or your slow southern drawl for the problem. Microphones that are employed by these assistants haven't been improved over the last few years with new technology like other components and parts have.

The current microphones that are used on smartphones are still affected by background noise, and won't accurately pick up words spoken from too far away. Basically, the industry hasn't improved the quality of the mics since the 2012 launch of the Apple iPhone 5. And companies that manufacture these mics are demanding improved hardware and software from smartphone producers.

The leader in the MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) microphones industry is a company called Knowles. The firm, which shipped 1.4 billion mics last year, is turning to software to improve its products. It hopes that a new algorithm it developed for its chips will improve voice recognition while lowering the demand for power.

A new technology being worked on by a company called Vespar uses flexible piezoelectric technology to eliminate the need for a static plate for its microphones. The plates end up collecting harmful and moisture over time, reducing a mic's performance. This technology won't be available until mid 2017 at the earliest.

For the first time in years, manufacturers like Apple are seriously thinking about upgrading the microphones on their devices. Apple is asking companies to deliver mics that can better lock in on a device user's voice, and from farther away. But the phone producers are also demanding that the improved part be delivered on a smaller chip that doesn't demand as much battery life as current chips.

The number of microphones found on your average smartphone has been increasing over the years. Apple started with one on the OG iPhone, and now has four on the Apple iPhone 6s. The Motorola DROID Turbo 2 uses five microphones. Not all smartphone manufacturers are convinced that more microphones is better. Samsung continues to use two for its Galaxy line.

Smartphone users hope to see an improvement in voice-recognition so that the questions they ask Siri, Google Now or Cortana are answered correctly the first time they are spoken.

source: Bloomberg

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23 Comments

1. BattleBrat

Posts: 1476; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Doesn't matter, Siri will screw it up anyway! I have a 6S plus, she's still crappy. Google now is beastly as ever on my HTC10 though, Google now was a little slow on my Sony Z3V though...

2. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

Siri worked fine on the iphone I used it on. Ur phone might be a mockup........

3. BattleBrat

Posts: 1476; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Uh oh, an apple defender! The IPhone 6s Plus is great, the 3D Touch swipe from left multitasking is great and the RAM keeps things from reloading, but Siri blows, always has, Google now is more epic than ever.

14. yann

Posts: 614; Member since: Jul 15, 2010

Such a bias article: "Basically, the industry hasn't improved the quality of the mics since the 2012 launch of the Apple iPhone 5"... Before iPhone 5 was Nokia 808 with HAAC microphones, Lumia 920 etc.... But in the article only Apple try to improve the whole industry. Excactly the opposite - Apple always implement their " new" things years after other companies. They do not invent anything - they just change the name - retina display, rose gold, live photos etc. Really phonearena is advertising Apple as hell. A$$holes!

16. guests

Posts: 196; Member since: Jun 19, 2016

what can u expect from a bunch of kids running phonearena...

18. sgodsell

Posts: 7515; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Many other smartphones already employ multiple mics to help isolated a users voice or to help out with background noise. Maybe Apple hasn't improved is what this article should be pointing at. But a number of Android devices as well as some WP/10 devices have excellent mic systems. Some even have 4 to 5 mics in one smartphone. Apple isn't even close to these devices. The same is true for Apples displays. Apple likes to make a change once in a while, and will milk it for as long as the sheep can endure, or their sales start to drop.

20. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

iPhone 6s also has 4 mics. First read carefully, then complain.

21. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

You can definitely hear the difference in this comparison against the S7 ( https://youtu.be/s6VUPgOzGlw ), apple's mic setup sounds like garbage compared to even a device muffled for the sake of waterproofing.

9. guests

Posts: 196; Member since: Jun 19, 2016

iphone is actually a mockup phone.

19. krystian

Posts: 423; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

I never had issues with Cortana. It can also be trained to recognize any accent you may have etc.. So these assistance allow you to set it up so they only recognize your voice. I was able to bypass this on my friends iphone 6s by increasing the pitch of my voice. I have a really deep voice and she has a very high pitch voice. But seems like it was too easy to do. I've tried the same thing with Cortana and it doesn't budge. I even had my brother try it and he has a similar voice to me but not quite there. It's possible because my phone has a surround sound microphone array so Cortana may expect more accuracy. Either way I never really use it unless I'm in the car. I don't think voice assistants are that useful. Never used siri on my iphone or google now on my android phone. And I don't use Cortana much either. And having Cortana on PC is just super useless.

10. AlikMalix unregistered

Siri works great on my phone. The phone you use more often is the one that maps your accent and speaking dialogue more and that's the one that would understand you better. My wife and I have identical phones. We both speak with an accent - my iPhone understands me perfectly, but if I use my wife's phone it can be more erroneous. My success rate is identical to using Google now on android. The only thing I have to complain about Siri is that she can get a black out time where the commend is heard but she gets stuck loading for a long time, asking again right away gets a result instantly.

4. Arthurhkt

Posts: 727; Member since: Apr 19, 2012

Well, since there is not much of people are really using Siri, Google Now, Cortana and BlackBerry Assistant at the moment, I guess this shouldn't be any big issue to most of the user then.

6. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

I use it all the time especially with setting reminder and alarms. Take a sentence to get the task done so why not. I just wish the mic quality would be better on wearable as we normally use them outdoor and the ambient noise are too high to make them practical.

7. Arthurhkt

Posts: 727; Member since: Apr 19, 2012

I guess not for most Asian thou, I know virtual assistant are really useful, but most of the Asian will feel awkward to asking/command request for a phone thou. Although personally I am using these Virtual Assistant and find it very useful, but sometimes I had to repeat same sentence for few time only they could properly recognized my voice.

8. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

Perhaps, if the mic pick up is better more people would use voice activated assistant. I bought a Sony Android TV for its Google Now voice assistant so that I could enjoy life as a true potato couch.

11. AlikMalix unregistered

Siri takes my commands in English as well as my native language. Dictation is really good on both languages for typing notes, searching, texting, or making lists. I would add that names that are not common English are hard for these virtual assistants to understand unless you switch to that language (from my experience).

12. lyndon420

Posts: 6861; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Speak for yourself. I use Google Now on pretty much a daily basis.

5. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

I just wish reviewers including mic quality measurements in their reviews for phone and voice enabled wearable.

13. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

When I used Moto's Touchless Controls (later Moto Voice) I could active it from across the room and it understood me just fine most of the time. I spoke loudly and clearly and unless the ambient noise was to loud, I didn't have a problem. That was on 2013 and later devices, so that would be the same mics referenced in the article.

15. AlikMalix unregistered

"Ok Google" was one of the best features that Apple copied. Always listening Siri is absolutely awesome. I will always credit Google's Motorola for having the balls to implement it knowing that there's an impact to the battery. Before that, in order for Siri to hear "hey Siri" across the room - it had to be activated and left in the Siri window (on either lock screen or not). One frustration I had was when using always listening Siri making "hey Siri, call John" command - you'd still have to approach the phone because it didn't make the call in speaker phone - about two years ago Apple fixed that. But yeah, that's one of two things I was jealous of androids features. (The other - imdeded stylus like s-pen - still waiting for Apple to copy that one).

17. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

On the original implantations in the 2013 Motorola models, the phone had the X8 CPUs, Motorola's own design. It was a modified Snapdragon S4 Pro, but they added two low power cores, a natural language processor (for Touchless Controls aka Moto Voice) and a contextual awareness processor (for Active Display aka Moto Display). The low power cores were the reason for those two features not sucking as much juice as they would without them, and I even think they took less power then later models that took advance of Qualcomm's built in low power cores on the SD800 on.

22. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

Google Voice Search has no problem hearing me on my OnePlus One nor my Surface Pro, in fact, some times when I'm expecting it to fail, it understands what I meant to say. All of that, without doing any voice training. Cortana's comprehension skills is what's f*cked up, keeps misinterpreting what I say even after voice training, and it's the worst of them all with all the stupid privacy-invading permissions it demands. Siri was OK on my jailbroken iPhone 4s.

23. JunitoNH

Posts: 1946; Member since: Feb 15, 2012

Lately, I have been using them more in the car, with CarPlay and Android auto.

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