What's Up With Apple: New Siri Voices, Tesla Batteries and More

When Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) introduced its voice assistant, Siri, in 2011, it didn’t take long for comments to begin flowing in about the gender implications of Siri’s default female voice. Two years later Siri’s English-language users were given an option of a male voice. Yet, the default for U.S. English-speaking Siri was the female voice, even though Apple also offered a default male voice in Arabic, British English, Dutch or French, according to a 2019 UNESCO report.

On Tuesday, in the latest beta release of iOS 14.5, Apple added two new voices to Siri’s English-language options and eliminated the default female voice option. From now on, Siri’s U.S. users will have to choose a voice when they set up Siri.

According to sociology professor Safiya Umoja Noble, cited in the UNESCO report, “commands barked at voice assistants – such as “find x,” “call x,” “change x” or “order x” – function as “powerful socialization tools” and teach people, in particular children, about “the role of women, girls, and people who are gendered female to respond on demand.”

In a statement about the new Siri voices, Apple commented: “This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”

When Apple announced Wednesday that it is building “one of the largest battery projects in the country” at its California Flats solar farm, the company did not mention the maker of those batteries. According to a report at The Verge, Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) will supply 240 megawatt-hours of storage at the 130-megawatt solar farm in Monterey County.

The storage project will use 85 of Tesla’s lithium-ion Megapacks, a larger version of the Powerpack batteries Tesla first installed in a South Australia energy storage project. According to the company, each Megapack can contain up to three megawatt-hours of storage and 1.5 megawatts of inverter capacity.

Elsewhere, fake cryptocurrency apps have cost five App Store customers who downloaded the app to lose a total of $1.6 million, according to a report in the Washington Post. Apple essentially has declined to comment, although the company has said it removed 6,500 apps last year that contained “hidden or undocumented” features.

Apple’s failure to catch these fakes weakens the company’s case against pending lawsuits related to the 30% royalty fee it charges developers for selling their apps at the App Store. Meghan DiMuzio, executive director of the Coalition for App Fairness, told the Post, “Apple frequently pushes myths about user privacy and security as a shield against its anti-competitive App Store practices. The truth is, Apple’s security ‘standards’ are inconsistently applied across apps and only enforced when it benefits Apple.”

Finally, on Wednesday, analysts at UBS raised their rating on Apple stock from Neutral to Buy and lifted their price target on the stock from $115 to $142. Included in the call was a bullish analysis of Apple’s expected entry into the auto market. That possibility added $14 per share to UBS’s new target.