iOS 13 gets Siri call blocking, more powerful Shortcuts

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Apple takes pride in its strong stance on user privacy but some point out that, at times, it also limits the things Apple’s products can potentially do. Siri, for example, is regarded to lag behind Google Assistant or even Amazon Alexa because of what Apple refuses to take from users. That doesn’t mean, however, that one of the earliest consumer AI assistants is underpowered and in iOS 13, Apple will be showing what it can do while still respecting the user’s privacy.

One of Google Assistant’s latest tricks is Call Screening, applying Google’s famous AI magic sauce to listen to what the caller has to say and then let users decide whether to take it or not. That does carry the risk of that call’s data getting uploaded to Google or someone else’s server, intentionally or otherwise, a risk that Apple isn’t willing to take.

So what is Siri to do? In iOS 13, it will simply make a blanket policy for all calls. Using data already on your phone, like contacts, emails, and messages, “Siri intelligence” will only let calls through from people you already know. Everyone else, which may be spam, gets sent to voicemail. If you have one, that is. It’s pretty much a Siri-powered version of Do Not Disturb but without you having to decide beforehand which contacts to let through.

In iOS 12, Apple introduced Siri Shortcuts, an offshoot of Shortcuts which itself was a revamp of the popular iOS automation app Workflow. This year, Apple is stepping up that automation game by letting Siri Shortcuts be more “conversational”. No, you won’t be speaking to Siri, which defeats the whole purpose of Siri Shortcuts. Instead, you can assign “parameters” to Shortcuts, letting users assign what a Shortcut will work on, like “Play this or that video”, at a press of a button or on command. Don’t want to tap or even speak? Users will also be able to add Shortcuts to automations so they don’t have to.

The more powerful Shortcuts is great but its new features will be lost on people who don’t even have it installed. That’s why in iOS 13, the Shortcuts app will be part of the comparatively few apps pre-installed on iOS 13 so users won’t have to search for it and install it themselves.

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