Apple’s intelligent personal assistant Siri has (finally) made the jump to Mac, courtesy of the macOS 10.12 Sierra update. The update brings most of the features iOS users have had for years to the desktop, with a few caveats.
Controlling your Mac with your voice has never been easier. Here’s what you can do, and how to personalize the experience.
Hear the Voice
You’re asked to activate Siri during the macOS Sierra setup process. You can do this later by visiting System Preferences > Siri. On this screen, you can configure some things about how Siri works, including the default language and voice.
Siri on Mac is available in many languages, including multiple versions of Chinese, English, and Spanish. In the United States, most are familiar with the American female voice. You can change this to an American male voice, a male/female Australian and British voice, plus female versions of Irish and South African English voices. Each accent changes the general Siri experience on Mac. Play around with these to find the one that best suits your needs.
Unlike Siri on iOS, Apple’s voice assistant on Mac doesn’t respond when you say “Hey Siri”. Instead, to begin a query, click the Siri icon in the Mac dock or menubar in the top-right of the screen. You can also set up a keyboard shortcut.
Under System Preferences you’ll find the following options:
- Voice feedback — With this setting on, Siri responds to queries with a voice and by text. With this setting off, responses arrive through text only.
- Mic input — If you have external microphones, you can use this setting to select it.
- Keyboard shortcut — You can use any keyboard combination to activate Siri, with Command+ Space being the default. You can also select from Option + Space and Function + Space. You can create different shortcuts by selecting Customize.
About Siri and Security
In macOS Sierra, Apple provides a lengthy security statement on Siri. Located on the Siri Settings page under “Siri and Privacy,” the report explains how Apple analyzes Siri queries. You should read this statement, especially as it relates to how Siri handles questions relating to Mac documents.
On this point, Apple notes:
When you use Siri to search for your documents, the Siri request is sent to Apple, but the names and the content of your documents are not sent to Apple. The search is performed locally on the Mac.
You can learn more about how Cupertino handles privacy on the Apple website.
Siri on Mac offers a lot of useful features, even as a first generation release. These features fall into two broad categories, which we’ll call workflow and entertainment.
Let’s Get to Work
One of the main reasons to use Siri on your Mac is to improve and speed up your workflow. Central to this is Siri’s broad search capabilities. By just asking a question, Siri can find any document that resides on your Mac.
Finding Your Files
For example, you need to find a file with “2015” in the title. You don’t know the location of the file or its full file name. Before the arrival of Siri, you would type “2015” into Spotlight and hope for the best. With Siri, search becomes more efficient and yes, personal.
In our example, we could ask Siri:
- “Show me all files with ‘2015’ in the title.”
- “Show me files with ‘2015’ in the title, opened in 2016.”
- “Show me all records with ‘2015’ in the title, located in the Desktop folder.”
Do you use Dropbox or OneDrive? As long as a folder is accessible from your Mac, Siri can search through it, even when those are remote files.
Siri Loves Photos
Enjoy snapping photos? Siri can search for images with ease thanks to new tagging features in Photos for Mac in macOS Sierra. You can also use Siri to find images from the web.
For example, you could ask Siri:
- “Find photos from July 2014.”
- “Find pictures of a sunset on the web.”
- “Show me the NBC logo.”
- “Find my photos from the beach.”
- “Show me photos with Jon.”
Of course, for that last one to work you’ll need to open up Photos and label “Jon” under the new People album.
Conversions and Sums
Need to find a percentage quickly? Want to multiply two large numbers? Wondering how many feet are in 9 metres? Making a purchase overseas and wondering what it’ll cost in your local currency. These are all supported by Siri, simply ask:
- “What’s 17% of 350?”
- “How much is 45 multiplied by 300?”
- “How many miles is 75 kilometers?”
- “What is 500 US dollars in Australian dollars?”
You can also create documents with Siri on Mac. To do so, start with a command such as “Send John a text” or “Send John an email”. From there, Siri will prompt you to compose the message using your voice.
When completed, Siri sends the message automatically. You can also use Siri to compose tweets, Facebook posts, and more. You cannot write documents in applications like Pages and Word with Siri. In this release, Siri cannot work with any third-party applications, unlike its iOS counterpart.
You could always try composing documents and longer passages with your Mac’s dictation feature though.
Drag and Drop
Images, files, and other information Siri finds are easy to add to a folder. Just drag the results right to a window on your Desktop. Better still, you can pull images found on the web into Mac applications such as Pages and Numbers.
Free Space and Battery
Siri is also very good at finding critical information about your Mac, including free space and battery percentage.
To find this information, simply ask Siri:
- “How much free space do I have?”
- “How much battery do I have left?”
Whether it’s helping you compose a message or helping you find a relevant file, Siri on Mac has you covered.
The Fun Stuff
Your Mac likes to have fun too, and so does Siri. At launch, the voice assistant already knows a lot about the outside world, including sports news, Twitter results, weather, and more. Among the commands to try:
- “What’s happening in the world?”
- “What’s the weather in New York City?”
- “Did the Boston Red Sox win yesterday?”
- “What’s the latest from Twitter?”
Depending on your question, you can pin the results to Notification Center. By doing so, everything about that topic stays up to date. To pin an item, click on the “+” button at the top right of the Siri query result.
For example, the question “When do the New England Patriots play next” offers the results you see above. The Siri box contains information on the next two football games, including a score, when applicable. Notice that it also features the + button to pin this information to your Mac’s Notification Center.
To pin the entire future schedule of your favorite sports team, tell Siri something like, “New England Patriots schedule for 2016”.
There are a few more entertainment-related commands to get you started with Siri.
- “What’s on at the cinema?”
- “How many miles to Columbus, OH?”
- “How many days until Thanksgiving?”
Siri on Mac is packed full of beneficial features even on day one. Just imagine what the future holds in future macOS releases.
What is your favorite feature in Siri on Mac?