If you are a frequent user of voice-activated virtual assistants such as Google Now, Siri, Cortana or maybe even Amazon’s Alexa, you’ll understand the frustration when you say something and the assistant fails to understand you correctly or simply doesn’t understand anything at all.
Well, it appears this is becoming an increasing problem for consumers and the companies behind the assistants, but neither are to blame. The problem appears to be the microphones that devices employ, which don’t seem to have improved much over the last four years, unlike other components and parts inside mobile devices.
Most microphones that are used on today’s smartphones are still affected badly by background noise, fail to accurately pick up the words that are spoken and often require too much power to be listening at all times, but this may be about to change. The current leader in the MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) microphones industry is a company called Knowles. The manufacturer, which shipped over 1.4 billion microphones last year, has developed a new software algorithm which it hopes will reduce power consumption while simultaneously improving voice recognition. As well as this, another company called Vespar is developing a new technology which uses flexible piezoelectric technology to eliminate the need for a static plate in its microphones. The elimination of the plates will hopefully improve the longevity of microphones as they tend to collect dust and moisture over time which, in turn, reduces the mic’s performance. Unfortunately, though, this technology won’t be available until mid-2017.
The problems that old microphones are facing is forcing manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung to think about upgrading their mics, though, in exchange, they want them to be smaller and more power-efficient than current ones. These factors are becoming increasingly important for manufacturers as they add more microphones to their device but don’t want to increase the overall size. Take Apple, for example, the original iPhone features just one microphone, while the iPhone 6 features three and last year’s iPhone 6S features four. While it seems we still have a bit of a wait until the next generation microphones are released, hopefully, it’s worth the wait and it will allow companies to ensure that Google Now, Siri, Cortana or Alexa will always answer questions correctly without consumers having to repeat them.