Apple iPhone's UK 'voice' says it was 'just a job'

Updated: 2012-01-17 08:33

By Cecily Liu and Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)

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Apple iPhone's UK 'voice' says it was 'just a job'

LONDON - You don't need to know who Jon Briggs is, but you may have heard his voice if you use the iPhone 4S in the United Kingdom.

Born in London and brought up in Oxford, his clear and loud voice is used for the UK version of Apple Siri.

"When I was young, I was the kid in a play that could be heard at the back of the hall," he said, adding that this natural talent encouraged him to move into radio.

Siri, which Apple calls a "humble personal assistant", allows users to talk to the 4S, just as they would a person, and UK users will receive answers in Briggs' voice.

A radio presenter, voice artist and conference moderator, Briggs is best known as the narrator on the BBC quiz show, The Weakest Link.

He started work at BBC Radio Oxford as a tea boy at 16, and two years later progressed to present the Saturday breakfast show Ten to One.

Briggs, who is now in his late forties, has presented many popular radio and TV programs on the BBC, Channel 4, ITN and LBC - London's oldest commercial station, over the 30 years of his journalism and voice recording career.

"When you're a voice recording artist, you know your voice very well," he explained, and this same skill enabled him to immediately realize that Siri was using his voice when watching a demonstration of it on television last year.

Briggs did a series of recordings for a technology company Scansoft six years ago, for text-to-speech services. Scansoft subsequently gave these recordings to Apple.

"Five thousand sentences over three weeks, spoken in a very particular way and only reading flat and even. Then they go away and take all the phonics apart, because I have to be able to read anything you want, even if I've never actually recorded all those words," he told The Telegraph.

The result, Briggs said, is "as close to human speech as anything that's out there. It gets everything right, more or less, apart from the inflection".

Back then, the experience was "just a job", for which he got paid "a decent sum".

Siri is currently available in English, French and German, but Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish versions will be added later this year.

Was it a surprise to discover he was the voice of Siri in the UK? "Not really, I know I've recorded on the system and it does turn up in strange areas and strange situations," he said. His voice has been used by the British Computer Association for the Blind and London's King's Cross railway station.

But there is one thing he did not expect - Siri's UK version has used a male voice while both the US and Australian English voices are female, although he has "absolutely no idea" why.

Briggs was not the only person to recognize his voice on Siri - his family and friends also discovered it.

"Some of them find it quite funny."

China Daily