Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study“on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in several worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.
The Siri Speech Study app offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a reasonable standard license agreement and a screen where participants enter their ID number to get started.
Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements by offering participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there isn’t a way for consumers to sign up to join.
The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri. In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending a small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly after that made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues but has a different aim than a research study.
Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes by combining the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, Apple said that participants provide explicit feedback on a per request basis. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask if Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could mention that, too.
Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Instead, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.
Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage. This year, the company scooped up ex-Google AI scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant. Their advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. Meanwhile, in the home, Alexa-powered intelligent speakers dominate the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.