Siri tipped for handy upgrade at WWDC 2023 — no more 'Hey Siri'

Siri icon appears on an iPhone lock screen
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Last year, Bloomberg’s well-connected Apple specialist Mark Gurman claimed that the company was looking to simplify the way iPhone, iPad and HomePod users wake up the Siri virtual assistant. Oh, how much difference a year can make.

Yesterday (June 2), Gurman put in one final prediction before WWDC 2023 kicks off on Monday: that this move could come into force as early as next week. “Everyone is asking about Siri, AI and WWDC on Monday,” he tweeted. “One item I haven’t mentioned in a while has been a major project to drop the ‘Hey’ from ‘Hey Siri.’ 

“I’d look out for that possibility next week.”

Turning Siri’s wake phrase into a wake word would bring Apple’s virtual assistant in line with Amazon’s Alexa assistant on its Echo smart speakers. And while it may sound like a minor change, a lot is going on behind the scenes — so much so that Gurman originally believed it could be something for 2024 rather than this year.

“While that might seem like a small change, making the switch is a technical challenge that requires a significant amount of AI training and underlying engineering work,” he wrote at the time.

Why? Because a longer wake phrase makes pickup more reliable. Detecting a two-syllable word in different accents and dialects is harder than picking up a three-syllable, two-word wake-up. 

Analysis: Why just 'Siri' feels riskier

Personally, that makes me a little nervous. The Amazon Echo speakers around my house come to life about once a week when I say something that sounds ever-so-slightly like “Alexa”. And when they do, you have the choice of carrying on speaking, before the Echo invariably interrupts you with its best attempt at interpreting a message that was never intended for it, or pausing until the light goes out and it stops listening to you.

By contrast, while I’ve only owned an iPhone for nine months, I haven’t had Siri wake up by mistake once. Frankly, I’d rather have a more complicated phrase and fewer false positives, but there we are.

If the change does arrive next week, it’s not clear if this will be accompanied by the other Siri improvements Gurman predicted last year — namely deeper third-party app integration and improvements to its understanding of users. 

But don’t expect miracles. Siri — and all the traditional digital assistants, in fairness — seem positively dunce-like when compared to generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT, and Apple has been slow out the traps at adopting large language models. But a report from earlier this year suggested we may see Siri become more ChatGPT-like with a new version of iOS next year, so there is hope for the old digital assistant yet.

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Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.