Accessible Apple 2017-2018: The 12 Requests of Christmas - Day 12

 Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod

This is the twelfth and final post in this year's edition of our annual 12-part series covering the accessibility features we would like to see Apple bring to its products in the coming year. This series is being put together by Accessibility Editor Alex Jurgensen, with the help of several contributors.

Apple World Today hopes to feature more Accessible Apple posts in 2018, so stay tuned!

For the twelfth request of Christmas, we ask Apple to give to us:

12. New Smarts for Siri

There's no denying that Siri, Apple's virtual personal assistant, is smart. From setting reminders to sending bank transfers, Siri has come a long way from the fledgling assistant it was when it first came to be a built-in part of iOS in 2011. However, with Google's Google Assistant powered Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo poised to take the lead in what Canalys is estimating will be a year of 56.3 million devices shipped, Apple needs to step up Siri’s game and teach it new skills.

I had a chance to play with an Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, the small versions of Google's and Amazon's smart speakers respectively, and I can confidently say that the smart speaker revolution will bring the next wave of accessibility. I would even go as far as to say that smart speakers are the largest step forward in mainstream accessibility since the iPhone added VoiceOver in 2009. The natural interaction model of using one's voice to control technology flattens a lot of the learning curve experienced by many people new to assistive technologies.

If Apple wants a slice of the smart speaker market, they will need deeper 3rd-party integration. Right now, Apple is using very clean ways of interacting between Siri and 3rd-party apps that isolate a lot of the complexity of developing voice driven interactions from developers. While this is nice, there are far too few areas, such as ride booking services, currently supported to allow Siri on the HomePod to compete with the Alexa and Google Assistant in terms of functionality. Add the fact that Alexa and Google Assistant are available on various other platforms besides the Echo and Google Home lineups and the cards are stacked against Siri.

What we would like to see Apple do is open Siri up to Developers as a platform. Apple should either rapidly add integration points for 3rd-party developers that would be similar to those already permitted or add such integrations more slowly but open up a looser method for interacting with Siri that would more resemble the ways in which Alexa's and google Assistant's functionality is built. Either approach will result in a large win for accessibility as Apple's vibrant ecosystem of 3rd-party developers will certainly rise to the challenge. Finally, we'd like to see these smarts come not only to the HomePod but be available across every device where Siri is available.

For more things we'd like Apple to include in upcoming releases, please see:

11 - A Touch ID Sensor On The Rear of the iPhone X

10 - Remote Audio Amplification, Audio Description, and Captions for iOS

9 - More Reliability When Using Dictation

8 - A Camera Accessory and FaceTime App for the Apple TV

7 - An iPhone SE 2

6 - More Support for Audio Ebooks in iBooks

5 - An Ultra-Simple Router Experience That Uses the Tech We Already Have

4 - A Smarter Way to Order Cabs with Siri

3 - A Fix to a Not So Long-Standing Mail Bug

2 - A Fix to a Long-Standing Mail Bug

1 - Easier Web Browsing with VoiceOver

Accessible Apple articles take a significant amount of volunteer effort to put together. This year, we ask readers to consider making a donation to support the development of an independent living skills training centre for training Canadians who are blind, partially sighted, and deaf blind in independent living skills such as assistive technology, literacy, independent travel, cooking, etc. These skills are essential and training centres help provide them. More information and donation links can be found here.