Apple gives Siri language classes, with Dutch, Portuguese, and Thai on the way

The beta of iOS 8.3 suggests that Apple's personal assistant will soon be speaking in several new languages.
Written by Martin Gijzemijter, Contributor

Apple's personal assistant Siri may be able to answer many questions, but until recently 'When will you speak Dutch?' wasn't one of them.

While Siri is currently available in many languages - Cantonese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish among them - Apple has said that with the beta version of iOS 8.3, users in the Netherlands will be able to give Siri voice commands in their native language.

Learning Dutch

It's about time, according to the Dutch, who have been without Apple's popular voice assistant since its introduction with the iPhone 4S in October 2011. That's not surprising, since, with 16.8 million residents, the Netherlands is a relatively small country, and one where Apple's share of the smartphone market is similarly on the small side.

Seventy-four percent of Dutch people owned a smartphone in the fourth quarter of last year (up seven percent year on year, according to Telecompaper), and nearly half are Samsung devices. Apple owns 23 percent of the Dutch smartphone market, considerably lower than the 40 percent market share it holds in the US, but more sizeable than its market share in other European countries such as Germany (16.9 percent), Italy (13.5 percent), and Spain (6.8 percent) where Siri is available in the local language.

Even more languages

In addition to learning Dutch, the iOS 8.3 beta will also reportedly see Siri learning Danish, Portuguese, Thai, Turkish, and Swedish. Although rumours suggest that iOS 8.3 is set for release in March, Apple hasn't given an official release date yet. iOS is currently on 8.1.3, meaning that iOS 8.2 (which is said to be an Apple Watch-related release) will be released before Siri expands her language skills.

Siri currently speaks nine languages - or fifteen as of iOS 8.3 - which is far ahead of Microsoft's Cortana, which speaks six languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Adding a new language to a personal assistant means not only making sure they can handle the vocabulary and cope with nuances of local speech, but also localising them to be able to provide information appropriate to the country, such as travel information, or details on the nearest restaurants. Apple has not disclosed how it decides which languages to teach Siri but market share would be a logical indicator.

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