Microphone technology is Siri’s next big hurdle


Sorry, Alexa: Siri still the most widespread AI assistant
Siri needs better microphones.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple, Amazon and Google are all in a battle to create the next great breakthrough with microphones in order to make their digital assistants more powerful.

While machine learning and artificial intelligence are getting all the hype lately, few industry analysts say microphone technology will play just as key a role in taking Siri and Alexa to a new level.

“No doubt, there is an arms race,” Peter Cooney, an analyst at SAR Insight & Consulting told Bloomberg. Tech companies are investing more into microphones now than ever to make voice recognition tech better, but “microphone performance has not really improved that much,” says Marwan Boustany, an analyst with research firm IHS Mark.

The problem most companies face is mics still aren’t good at focusing on faraway voices, filtering background noise and requiring too much power to be listening at all times, which is critical for Apple’s new “Hey, Siri” feature.

Apple and others face the challenge of making the signal-to-noise ratio higher by increasing sensitivity, but without increasing size or power demands.

Some tech companies are trying to solve the problem by embedding audio processing algorithms into microphones that can recognize when to activate a device’s other audio processing powers. Another company called Vesper has created a flexible piezoelectric technology that generates its own voltage, improving signal and power use. The company says it’s already talking to tech companies about including it in their products, but it won’t be on the market until mid-2017.