Apple’s latest update has introduced a unique feature that is taking a significant step towards diversity.
On Monday, April 26, the tech giant released its iOS 14.5 updates for iPhones and iPads, which featured new emojis, the power to unlock your phone with ease while you wear a mask, gaming, and personal setting update.
Aside from the latest software, which Apple described as an update built “on the reimagined iPhone experience introduced in iOS14,” Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, has also gotten an upgrade. Siri now has two new English accents, one male and one female, which appear as “Voice 2” and “Voice 3” in iPhone settings.
The voices will use Neural Text to Speech, as Apple’s Newsroom explained, “the updates further Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, with products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
Though Apple hasn’t publicly confirmed the cultural identities of the two new voices, many users online have described them as Black voices in English.
Technology blogger John Gruber shared a screen recording of Siri’s new voices that have taken many by surprise. Jason Allen, a public relations manager for an insurance company in the San Francisco Bay Area, spoke to Yahoo about his first reactions when he heard Siri’s new voices, telling the media outlet, “One stopped me in my tracks.” “Did I just hear a Black male voice between those other voices?” he added.
He continued, “You play it back, and you hear someone who sounds like you, or a friend of yours, or someone in your family. A young Black voice owning that role in a lot of people’s homes is incredibly powerful. It says that Black identity and African-American identity have value, have legitimacy, and can be trusted here as a partner in searching for information.”
Consumers online have also expressed their thoughts on the new change, including one Twitter user who wrote, “I’m a Black man listening to a Siri voice properly pronounce “wassup” with a Black mans accent. Performative or not, this was a nice update.”
“They made a black siri voice but its not realistic enough until she tells me ‘we got food at home’ when i ask where the nearest restaurant is,” another jokingly wrote.
Sherri Williams, a professor who studies race and media at American University, says the diversification of Siri’s voice is crucial for change. “When I think of Siri, I think of a voice that a lot of people hear, this omnipotent voice that’s also a voice of authority,” Williams said. “If we can make the voice of authority one that doesn’t always sound like white people, then that is progress.”