Would you want Siri to be 'always listening' for your voice commands? [Poll]

Would you want Siri to be 'always listening' for your voice commands?

Both the upcoming Xbox One from Microsoft and Moto X from Google feature "always listening" functionality for their voice-controlled, natural language interfaces. So what about Apple and Siri? Should the next iPhone and iPads have the microphone that you can also choose to turn on and set to perpetually listen and process, and keep ready for everything and anything we say, waiting to key onto a command phrase that signals we want to use it - "Okay, Google Now!" - er... - "hey Siri!"?

There's a power concerns, of course. Xbox One is plugged in and therefore has no battery life to worry about, but the iPhone or iPad, like the Moto X, would absolutely have to do everything it can to conserve power. Beyond the technical issues, however, are privacy concerns. The news is already filled with stories of governments and companies allegedly spying on our communications, do we really trust them with constantly enabled mics? And what about simple system errors? I've had bits of conversation accidentally sent to me from Google Glass glitches, imagine the potential for mistakes with mainstream systems?

On the flip side, "always listening" can also be incredibly convenient. When your hands are full, or your device is out of reach, being able to command it with words alone is beyond useful. Likewise, Siri is already behind Google Now when it comes to functionality, including localized voice parsing, predictive responses, and more, and not doing "always listening" would put it one more feature down on the parity list.

Do you think the upcoming iOS 7 on the rumored iPhone 5s should start playing catch up? Apple's offered exclusive new features on hardware before, so would an extra processing core for onboard and persistent voice processing be interesting to you? Would you want your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad mic to be flipped on all the time, and Siri to be "always listening" for your commands?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Would you want Siri to be 'always listening' for your voice commands? [Poll]


Yeah, as long as it didn't cut down battery life. Apple may need to start adding features just to shut Samscum up.

This is not a Samsung feature, this is added on to Google Now. This feature can be manually turned on or off in the settings. Rene forgot to add that in his article. This is a great feature for driving. Not having to even push one button to do just about anything on your phone.

I don't think I completely trust Siri (or any artificial intelligence app) to type and send a text or message for me without my review first. It could contain the wrong (or inappropriate) words by mistake. Or worse, it could send to the wrong person.

Have you ever actually used Siri to send a message? You have the opportunity to review it before agreeing to send, either visually or aurally. Not sure why this would change. One-day maybe when the technology has matured. Localizing Siri would help substantially with some of the problems I experience with it now though. One can only hope this will be released sooner than later.

Sent from the iMore App

Hey, why not? Apple's been playing catch up for a few years now so, what makes the "always listening" feature any different? Go ahead Apple, indulge.

I would love it so long as there is little impact on battery and I can disable it with a simple toggle at any time I so desire. Only then is that allowed.

This is just how it is set up on the Moto X. It is part of Google Now and can be turned on or off in settings. I would bet anything this feature will be added to all Android phones with Jelly Bean OS. Great feature and IOS should set Siri up the same way.

If it needs me to pronounce the name "Siri" every single time I'll be troubled. I don't mind if Apple implements this as long as I can turn it off.

Lol, yeah I actually changed my wake up command on my Note 2 to "help me Jarvis." Idk if I feel less stupid than saying "hello Galaxy" but maybe just a little closer to Tony Stark.

Since Siri is only one button push away from use, it's rather pointless to have Siri "always on", "listening" and waiting for you to speak some command. Google has already done that with the MotoX. To have that in iOS 7 (or any other version of iOS) amounts to following what the competition has already done, rather than lead with some new innovation that the competition isn't already doing. If Apple every does this, I will turn it off. If Apple doesn't allow it to be turned off, this will eventually push me away from the platform. I have little interest in computer automation. I need to be the one in control, pushing buttons, and able to disable anything I don't want to use.

The point is to be able to activate the feature without using your hands at all, which is the natural direction voice recognition in computing needs to go and is heading.

If it's activated by your voice instead of "pushing a button", how are you not the one in control? How is it any different aside from being easier?

Blackberry is doing better in other countries actually. Just not in the U.S. It's Apple and Android thats doind well here. And actually, Apple has copied for a while now and im waiting for them to get sued.

Give Blackberry time, its slowly coming back. The Blackberry 10 os just came out not to long ago. What phone did you use before Apple?

I don't think you understand how there Moto X works Renee, It has a low power single core CPU dedicated to always on which means there is no battery loss. Apple could do it with an A7 system, a dual core main and a single core CPYU for Siri.

I do indeed understand how it works, but if you say no battery loss, you don't understand how physics works. Low power doesn't equal no power, which is why it isn't called "no power single core". Everything has a price, especially on a phone where every milliamp and millimeter count, Google/Moto is just being as smart as possible about how they pay it.

And yes, Apple could do the same, which is what I said in the article.

Rene, you failed to write in your article the most important feature. This is a feature that can be turned on or off in settings. This is a great feature while driving in your car. Not even having to push one button to do just about anything on your phone. Send a text message or E-Mail. The list is endless. Every comment was all the same thing, "only if I could turn it on or off". Going for a long drive, turn it on, laying in bed, turn it on. This feature will be added to the Android OS with Google Now. This feature would be great on the iPhone. It is just a real safe way to use the Smart Phone. For those who are worried about copying, who cares, everyone copies from everyone. If you don't believe that then you probably believe in the boogy man. Just My Opinion.

If it can go a full 24 hours on a single charge with mixed/moderate use vs maybe 25 if not, is it really worth turning off? Is there a difference in usage between no battery loss and minimal/inconsequential battery loss? If you really need to conserve battery that badly and don't have access to a charger, you can still turn it off.

I don't see battery concerns or privacy concerns, since it isn't recording you or sending your activity anywhere and if the stated battery life of 24 hours holds up, the battery drain would be so low as to be inconsequential. These are as much non-issues for the Moto X as they would presumably be for Apple (assuming they used the same approach or achieved the same effect).

Was Jean-Luc Picard worried about privacy issues with his computer? Did Scotty look to *enable* the listening function when he tried talking to a Macintosh computer in 1987? No. They were not pansies. And neither are you. Always on.

Fantasy computers are not the same thing of course. The fact that the kind of human computer interaction in Star Trek etc. doesn't actually work in real life is why we will never have such computers. That's why voice is a bit of a dead end until a computer can think like a person, and it's patently impossible for a computer to think like a person and always will be. Sorry to burst your fantasy bubble.

I think that is a little far fetched to say we will never have a computer that will do this. Heck, based on functionality, the Star Trek computers don't do much more in fantasy for the device they are tied to (fly the ship, querry information, make tea Earl Grey hot with a twist of kemon) than phones do (play a song, querry information, open an app). Voice control is just now in its infancy and funny enough, mobile is where it is taking off, not desktop. And, mobile is where it is even tougher to implement because of hardware, battery, and size constraints. Smartphones have come a long way in the last seven years when we started getting phones that could barely work as MP3 players as a secondary feature. If we could look five more years in the future I think we would be amazed and the best is yet to come.

I am not an English speaker, so I have never been able to use Siri, nor I probably ever will. So this question is irrelevant to me. I could use Google Now, since it supports a wide range of languages and Google announced they are comitted to bringing their services, and of course Android, to the reach of every person on the planet. The problem is, I do not want to use Android or Android hardware. Gotta wait what MS/Nokia combo will bring to the table. They have told they introduce voice-based solutions once the technology improves sufficiently from the current state of the art, which MS deems unsatisfactory. I don't know if that is indeed the case today, since I have never used one. Though more and more people now have: A local journalist praised in her review of Google Now that the ad company has made scifi reality: Like in Star Trek, a phone now understands speech! She mourned that traditional tech companies do not offer such innovations but rather concentrate on phone weight and screen size and other trivialities, and that it takes a user-oriented ad company to think out of the box -- what is truly possible today. Apple too could have inspired her similarly, but chose not to.

Its a great feature, but problem is, phones with a corporate connection, most of the time require passwords. So, you have to enter the password first, before you can give it a voice command! Kind of eliminates the advantage.

I'm hoping we will eventually see it to where not only does it hear and understand my commands, but it recognizes my voice as a security feature, even with just the wake up command.

I think this generation should read the book 1984 and older generations should re-read it and think about what direction technology is heading in.

As long as it is all done on the device and nothing goes to Google, I'm fine with it.

Since you have to train it with several voice samples, I suspect it does work locally, but I don't know for sure.

It does work on-device for actions that are done on the device, like launch an app or play an mp3 file from the phone. Queries that search the internet are obviously transmitted back to a server, just like Siri, MS' TellMe or any other voice recognition.

I would like the "Always Listening" feature if it was an option. I think it could be a huge advantage for Apple!

Imagine a bunch of friends with iphone at a table ; Yea you'd call out your phone and your friend's phone responds...
Voice authentication ? Battery drain ? Privacy ? Confusion ?

I'd rather it responded to my thoughts.

Then again it would make a good sci-fi !

Sent from the iMore App

Well you see there is a training session so it knows your voice. Motorola were not stupid when they implemented this.

I don't agree with the comments of apple trying to catch up.
This has been a jailbreak feature for quite a while.

I think that it would be awesome that if I'm talking to Siri on the lockscreen then I'll keep listening until I unlock my phone. Most of the time I find myself asking the iPhone something while doing other stuff and then I need to come back to the desk and press the home button to ask other stuff like sending a new message. It would be awesome if it can just stays on.

Great feature, it's set up on the Moto X where you can turn it on or off in Settings. This is great while driving, never have to even look at your phone. This is very clever of Google and it works great. This is a must have for the iPhone, bottom line it can save lives.

I have a 2013 Samsung TV. It was not long before I turned off both gestures and voice because they more often worked when they shouldn't have and didn't work when they should. I do NOT want motion or voice on all the time. Love the TV as a screen, hate the half-baked features. Apple has a knack for introducing features once they will work well and not until. Google Now is a known battery eater in any event.

Huh? Google Now only works when you activate it. The battery on my One kills my friend's Iphone 5 which often shuts down at 25%

I've read a number of reviews that all state that Google Now eats up battery life. Only works when you activate it? My understanding is that it is tracking everywhere you go, not that I have used it personally, and that is a big part of the battery drain. So it is more "Google If" then "Google Now", "If" being if you turn it on. My iPhone 5 will go all the way down to zero if I let it and then shut down. Your friend needs to call Apple.

I have heard that you can turn off things like location tracking — or whatever it is called — with Google Now but that kills part of its benefits. I know my iPhone seems to track me because I can locate it from my computer and if Siri got me directions and I turn the phone off, it automatically comes on and starts telling me what to do if I walk out of the house toward my car (move sufficiently).

Location Services use battery life, not Google Now specifically, although this is a big part of what makes Google Now so useful. Fortunately, it is mitigated drastically by 4.3 which allows WiFi Location based tracking even if turned off so you don't have GPS pinging as often. And it is very easy to disable if so desired.

Moto X optimizes the battery usage by having a dedicated core for the voice recognition features. In earlier handsets the battery drain from Now was significant, but now it runs fairly light unless you're actively using GPS navigation.

I'd have to see and hold the Moto X before having an opinion. I would only buy a device from the maker of the OS so Nexus and now the MX would be about all I would consider so far as Android goes. This isn't fair but I saw a Moto X commercial with a guy in bed talking to his phone without touching it. All I could imagine is someone talking in their sleep and driving the poor phone nuts, and further if you could buy things through voice what outlandish things could happen. Hardly likely, but that's where my mind went.

I have a Samsung Smart TV and I had to turn off the gesture and voice commands because things kept popping up on the screen when I didn't want them and then the thing wouldn't work when I did want it to (awesome screen which is what I bought it for). For now I'll stick to manually activating devices until this sort of thing is sorted out. One thing I do know, I want a very clear retina-like screen and I won't buy anything from anyone that doesn't have that.

I could go with a dumber phone and even the "phablets" are too small for me to really engage with. I use my iPad most when I am not using my Mac Pro.

Siri never works for me. She can't understand me when I ask her to so unless they improve the app considerably I wouldn't use it anyway.

I've heard that females in particular have a hard time getting Siri to understand them. My daughter-in-law is a big Apple fan who speaks very clearly and can't get anywhere with Siri. Personally I have no problems getting Siri to understand me and it takes some experimentation to get "her" to do what I want. Voice is great for certain things such as asking, "How did the Tigers do?" instead of digging up the appropriate app and then navigating to the answer. There is promise for this sort of thing, but in many ways it is still just promise.

I find the Moto X to be creepy. The idea of having a phone still be listening to everything going on while it's on the nightstand in your bedroom and "turned off" is just plain gross. I'm shocked that so many people see this as a good thing and don't mind the privacy violation.

It isn't recording your voice or piping your activities anywhere - its listening for a hotword/phrase specifically from your voice in order to activate Google Now. Where is the privacy violation? Do you think your phone has an interest in hearing "everything going on" in your bedroom?

Anyone who has a "privacy concern" over the Moto X activation feature is grossly misinformed on what "privacy" actually means.

Imagine computers 100 years from now. This feature will be a fundamental part of our interface with the computer. "Siri, turn on the lights, cook me some breakfast and make my bed for me."

The question is not if apple should implement it, its when. This is the future, to have one supercomputer always listening and acting/reacting to the user. Apple is just waiting for their tech to catch up (i.e. dump Nuance and try to perfect the tech), and for the majority of the public to be cool it or just accept it as inevitable.

In my humble opinion, in this day and age, the ONLY way to protect your privacy is to live off the grid. That means no smart phone (not even cell phone) and no internet. As long as you have a smart device, and as long as you are on Facebook, Instagram, et al (including this on-line forum), you lose your privacy. All of your carriers, Apple, Google, and the apps on your devices are tracking you and collecting your data. If you believe you have your privacy simply by keeping Siri from listening actively, you probably also believe there is a Santa Claus. ;)

People are using "privacy concerns" to include the availability of any information even remotely related to you, no matter how inconsequential, being stored anywhere and used for any purpose, even if beneficial. Using this definition, you can't even live without a privacy concern since there would be a public record of your birth.

What privacy should mean is the distribution of information about you to a person or group of people used in a way that you didn't authorize or allow. Google Now, Moto X, and a potential Siri feature that listens for your command does not violate privacy.

Google gives you complete insight into and control over all of the data you provide it, and actively uses that information to improve your experience with its services.

"Privacy concerns" as a reason to hold back the pace of technological innovation is a rather asinine reason to do so. You have full control over what you do or do not share over the internet and, in the case of Google and the Moto X in question, full control over what information Google has about you, and its privacy policy is crystal clear on how it uses that information.

There is no privacy concern with the Moto X and there wouldn't be one with Siri if it copied this feature from Google Now. Once again, the "privacy concerns" are being totally overblown.

There's so little happening in Appleworld that most articles refer to Android features and new Android phones. Poor Apple. So high and might once, but now...sad. 1-2 product launches per year for refreshes at best.

I honestly find the always on feature to be a 'gimmick' than an actual useful feature I'd use. The iPhone home button is so easy to access and long-press that I can do it blindfolded and distracted, vs. an Android phone that uses a home button softkey that is more difficult to access eyes-free (vs. a physical button you can easily feel) which is needed to activate Googel voice search, this is assuming on a phone using Google's recommendations for button layout (cough *Samsung* cough). I cannot think of a situation I've actually been in where I actually needed hands free Siri activation.

Honestly, I don't see the value of Apple chasing niche-y feature sets in this case. It's not their MO.

I've tried this last year in a jailbreak app called "handsfree." It worked pretty well but it had its quirks. One feature was that you could change the activation name (ie Siri) to anything you wanted. The problem I found was that, inevitably, in a normal conversation with someone, my phone would hear something that sounded like whatever my activation word was and Siri would come on. After awhile, this became annoying and I had to disable the feature. I presume this would work best when you were in a car by yourself, when there is no conversation, and you just want to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. You can ask for directions, request certain music, launch apps, search for a contact name, etc, just by speaking your activation word and then speaking your command. Overall, somewhat limited in its usefulness due to unpredictable Siri activation.

Your poll asked the wrong question. The proper question is: would you want your device to always be listening for your voice commands. The device. Not Siri.

I would like the always-on feature to initially only process oral instructions locally, on the device, not through a server connection.

I would be able to ask, for example, for a music selection from my library, with absolutely no connection outside the device -- just as iPod Touch devices could before the involvement of Siri.

If I wanted Siri, I would speak aloud my request for Siri, and that capability would be called up, just like any other app capable of being summoned orally. I should be able to enable security for all such app activations, ranging from the simple, to the stringent, according to how I set the security parameters.

Always listening device, yes, but not able to connect with the outside world without my say-so, involving variable levels of security. The exception would be calls for assistance, such as 9-1-1.

I bet Rene would be all over the Moto X if he could change the activation phrase from "OK Google Now" to "OK Jarvis."

I would love for Siri to be able to be activated by voice. I have a GPS that is activated by saying "Voice Command" and then you proceed with your request. The command "voice command" can be changed to almost anything that you want to. I would love to have this in the new iOS but with the ability to turn it off if it's a power issue. This would also be a nice feature to have in the future with wearable technology such as iWatch. That way you don't have to pull the phone out of your pocket to push the button to activate Siri.

Siri can already be ready to listen when you pick up the phone to your ear. I use Siri a lot, I mean I'll catch my self actually long-holding the home button even though I just want to unlock the phone (yes, android fans, you can access Siri without "slide to unlock", without lighting up the screen, we can just put it up to our ear even without pushing the button). Anyway, but I do prefer to push the button before I ask for a command. So, NO, I dont care for always listen feature.

Why not have it work like so many other Apple features work? That is, to have Siri always listening whenever the phone is plugged in. One of its main benefits is when driving, in which case most people have their phones plugged in anyway to sate the power-hungry GPS apps. At home with the phone is in its dock, you could tell Siri to set or snooze the alarm, for example.