Earlier this year, a Reddit post suggesting a new feature for Alexa caught the attention of many Echo owners: a whispering function that triggers the digital assistant to whisper back if you whisper at it first. The idea there is that you may be in a situation where you want a response, but you need to keep things quiet: maybe a child just fell asleep, it is the middle of the night, or someone is watching a movie. Turns out, Apple is already exploring that feature.
A recently published patent, which Apple filed with the USPTO last year, details a digital assistant like Siri that is able to whisper a response rather than speak it at normal volume. The patent, which was spotted by Gizmodo, specifically discusses “whispered speech,” explaining that the assistant would detect when the user whispers at the device, then likewise it would provide its response as a whisper.
The scenarios above are only a small example of the reasons someone may want to whisper at Siri rather than talk at full volume. The patent explains that the user may want to protect their privacy by quietly asking a question or giving a command; getting a full volume response back would be necessary in that case. This could also make it acceptable to use Siri in situations where loudly asking a question is frowned upon: in a work cubicle or in the library, for example.
It’s important to note that the patent isn’t simply talking about reducing the volume of Siri’s response when it detects that the user is whispering — Siri (or something like it) would actually respond with a whisper of its own. It’s reasonable to assume that such functionality could even be joined by related features like automatically enabling whispering mode after a certain time of night.
Whether Apple actually plans to introduce a whispering mode for Siri or some other digital assistant isn’t known, though. As with any patent, there’s no guarantee that an actual product based on the described technology will be produced. On the other hand, this could be a sign that Apple — and possibly other companies with similar products like Amazon — are interested in adding the ability.