Apple is testing a new type of search result format for some questions. As spotted on Reddit, Spotlight Search can now answer some typed-in questions with direct answers, rather than a generic list of web results.
The listing highlights the extract, which should hopefully answer the question, along with the source website and a button to report a concern if the result is inappropriate.
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An all too familiar experience of using Siri is getting an answer like ‘I found this on the web for [x]’. This happens when Siri cannot determine the answer to a question using its intelligence, and it falls back to web results. These kinds of responses usually happen when asking more intricate trivia questions which have traditionally fallen outside Siri’s domain of knowledge.
Since iOS 11, Apple began synthesizing information from Wikipedia and other sources to make info cards to help it answer more trivia questions, in the first steps to competing with Google’s rich Knowledge Graph. This has caused trouble for Apple on occasion as it implicitly depends on the source data being accurate, and not being hijacked.
You can see this understanding in action by asking Siri a question like “what is the tallest mountain in the world?”
Apple has been slowly expanding its knowledge database since iOS 11.
The new web answers appear to be a further expansion of this technology. If the statistics are not readily available from the knowledge database, it seems Apple is now using algorithms to crawl websites and find possible responses to questions.
In the case of the example above, we typed into the iPad “how long does it take to get to the moon.” Above the generic web search results, Spotlight quotes ‘The trip to the Moon took just over three days’.
As you can see, it somehow knows what is relevant in the web article and can extract just that sentence, which makes for a good approximation of an intelligent result. Other examples include web answers for questions like “why do bees make honey” and “how long does a check take to clear”
These web answers have currently been found in Spotlight and only for iOS users in the United States. However, it would be a natural fit for Apple to also roll out these smarter answers to Siri. This would increase Siri’s hit rate and reduce the number of times users encounter ‘here’s what I found’ generic web result responses.