Software

Siri's personal assistance skills could soon include answering the phone

Apple is said to be testing a new version of Siri that can take voice messages for you. Jordan Golson explains.

Siri

For iPhone users, Siri tries to be a virtual, personal assistant. She can already make dinner reservations with OpenTable, get the latest sports scores or movie times, and send text messages for you.

Now, Apple is apparently working on a significant upgrade to the voice-activated AI—the ability to actually answer phone calls and take a message for you.

It's meant to be something of a bridge between leaving a voicemail (which is faster than sending a text) and turning that into a text message (which is faster to read than a voicemail is to listen to).

According to a report from Business Insider, the new feature is said to launch in 2016, perhaps as part of iOS 10.

I think the feature would be terrific. I hate voicemails, even though I have a dedicated phone number that I give out for work purposes that only goes to voicemail. Since I use Google Voice, which includes an automatic transcription feature (that mostly works), I get messages emailed to me and can see at a glance what they're about and whether they need immediate attention or not.

The feature, which Business Insider calls iCloud Voicemail, would also allow Siri to give different answers, depending on who is calling. It can pass on information about where you are or what you're doing if your spouse calls, for example, or perhaps offer an alternate phone number where you can be reached for your boss (or not).

The voicemail transcribing feature certainly isn't the most revolutionary thing in the world (as noted, Google Voice has done it for years), but having a virtual assistant that can answer the phone for you could be a boon for businesspeople who don't have their own receptionist. Perhaps Apple could allow callers to inform Siri that their call is extremely urgent and then be put through—or create a sort of virtual call screening service.

The possibilities are intriguing, though the current report is relatively light on details. Both Siri and the basic operating system are getting smarter in iOS 9, part of a push by Apple to anticipate user needs and patterns.

Mail can suggest frequently paired recipients when sending an email or prompt you to continue a podcast if you connect your phone to your car. Flight or restaurant reservation confirmations can be automatically added to your calendar, and your phone will be able to search through emails to try and match incoming caller ID numbers to people who have emailed you.

Apps will be suggested by your routine, and you can be prompted to connect with individuals you have talked to recently or have upcoming appointments with.

Many of these features have appeared elsewhere, but Apple adopting them will affect hundreds of millions of users through its enormous reach. Any change Apple makes is a big deal. So, perhaps in a year or two, you might hear Siri on the other end of your phone call.

Would you rather have Siri answer your calls than traditional voicemail? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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