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Siri, Why Don’t You Speak Spanish?

Apple: Voice-Activated Personal Assistant Learning Several New Languages

Even though Siri was born in California, a state where more than one-third of the population is Hispanic or Latino, Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant doesn’t speak Spanish.

With Siri its major selling point, the iPhone 4S has flown off the shelves, despite running the risk of alienating the U.S. ethnic group most gaga for smartphones: Hispanics, who are more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to own them.

Zooey Deschanel and Siri speak English to each other in an ad.
Zooey Deschanel and Siri speak English to each other in an ad.

Even so, some think Apple stumbled in not including a Spanish-language Siri when it launched in October.

“I have several friends who purchased iPhones for family members and then returned them because Siri doesn’t speak Spanish,” said one Hispanic media exec. “At first they thought the phone was broken. Then they said, ‘Siri es una estupida.’ “

And though Siri has starred in Apple’s ads for iPhones in the U.S., she can’t be part of its sell in China because she also doesn’t speak Mandarin — the No. 1 language by volume of speakers.

That doesn’t seem to be hurting iPhone’s popularity there, though. Apple grossed more than $10 billion in Asia-Pacific in the first quarter, second only to the Americas $13 billion. Apple earned $8.8 billion in Europe in the first quarter.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to English, Siri speaks German, Japanese, French and even celebrity. (“Siri, remind me to put the gazpacho on ice.”) Apple has said that additional languages, including Chinese, Korean, Italian and Spanish, are on the way this year.

“Apple has a roadmap and has to get all the bugs out,” said Steven Wolfe Pereira, exec VP at MediaVest and managing director of its multicultural unit, MV42.

Apple has long used software like Siri to make its devices more appealing. For example, iTunes drove rabid demand for iPods. Similarly, iTunes was available in the U.S. first, then Europe and then elsewhere worldwide.


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