Along with the iPhone 15 announcement this week, Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 9. It was a relatively minor iterative update, but one feature in particular caught my attention: Siri’s offline mode.
Siri can be annoying at the best of times, but it’s especially bad on the Apple Watch due to its seemingly unstable network connection. A long pause and the announcement “We’re working on it” is an all too common experience. Siri’s offline mode with Apple Watch Series 9 could make this a thing of the past.
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Until now, Siri worked like this: You spoke into your watch’s microphone, your audio samples were transcribed into text on the device, but interpretation of that text required sending that text to Apple’s cloud of Siri servers. They will then have to wait hours for a response before they can fulfill your request.
It didn’t matter whether what you were asking was trivial or obvious, even the simplest Watch requests required contacting the server to actually answer your request. And the watch’s network connection is slow and unreliable.
The watch uses Bluetooth relays through the iPhone whenever possible to maximize power efficiency, but it’s not exactly the fastest method of connecting to a wireless network. Outside of iPhone range, the situation is even worse, as you’re at the mercy of the watch’s small and weak Wi-Fi and/or cellular radio.
This is where the Series 9 could be a big step forward, and Siri’s loading counter could become a thing of the past. Thanks to the increased power of the S9 chip, Apple uses natural language machine learning models on the watch itself, so some queries can be processed completely offline, without having to contact a server at all. You are no longer reliant on the Watch’s unstable internet connection, which should speed up normal activities significantly.
I’m relatively confident that this will work as advertised, since Apple has already implemented a similar change for Siri on iPhones starting in 2021, improving response times and privacy.
The only big question is what kinds of “basic” requests Watch will be able to handle on its own, and which ones will still have to resort to server-side processing. This list has not yet been approved. We’ll know for sure when Series 9 launches next week, but I’m sure the two things I’m really excited about will be covered – running workouts and setting timers. Apple used the workouts as a demo for Siri during their keynote, so that’s a guarantee.