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Most of the commercials, jokes, and media hype about Apple’s iOS voice assistant, Siri, have subsided, but I still run into iPhone users who don’t take advantage of this powerful feature. Just the other day I had to actually try to convince my 15 year-old daughter about how she could set a reminder on her iPhone, by simply raising her iPhone to her ear, and telling Siri to remind her to read chapter 12 of her philosophy textbook, on Thursday night. This type of reminder can easily be done with no tapping and typing.
Despite the many things Siri can’t do at this stage of its development, its voice command capabilities will improve over time, and more of its mobile features will be integrated in the Mac operating system. We will be sending more sci-fi-like commands to our computers, and doing a lot less typing on the keyboard, as James shows in how to get Siri to say what you want. It’s much faster than typing to tell Siri to set appointments, display driving directions, or call someone in your Contact list. And for writing purposes, it’s always faster to use voice dictation.
So if you haven’t been using Siri much, let me explain what it can do.
What Can I Help You With?
If you want to quickly know what Siri can do, push and hold the Home button on your iPhone or iPad, and when the Siri panel pops up, tap the circled “i”.
You will get a guide list of how Siri can help you, and how it works with specific iOS apps, including Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Movies, Mail, and Contacts. You can also send the command, “Help me” to get at this guide.
Now tap the arrow for say the Phone app, and it will show examples of phone related commands, e.g., “Call home,” “Call 408 555 1212”, “FaceTime Emily.” For the Music app, you can tell Siri to “Play some blues,” or play a specified song title or playlist. These and other music commands are especially useful if you’re listening to music using your Apple remote earphones.
You can’t harm your iPhone or other iOS device while learning to use Siri, so when no one is around, pull up the Siri guide and practice some of the listed commands, and what you learn from this article.
Setting Up Siri
Siri works right out of the box, but you can, as with most software, set preferences for how you want it to perform. Open the Settings app on your iOS device, and tap on General > Siri. You can first see that you can disable Siri, but you probably shouldn’t do so, because if you disable it, you will erase any previous information stored on Apple’s servers that Siri uses to respond to your requests.
You can also set which language you want to use with Siri, and whether or not you want to hear Voice Feedback from Siri. If you would rather not always hear back from Siri, disable the feedback, but I don’t recommend this when you first start using it. However, if you want to use the device in a public place, you can shut off voice feedback so you don’t draw attention to yourself. In this case, you might select to set the Hands Free voice feedback when you’re using it with your device’s earphones. To use Siri with your iPhone’s earphones, simply push and hold on the remote control button of your earphones until you hear the familiar Siri sound.
I would suggest leaving the Raise to Speak feature enabled, because that saves you the trouble of pushing the Home button of your device to start up Siri. When you raise your iPhone (Raise to Speak isn’t a part of iPad) to your ear, you will hear the Siri alert that indicates it’s waiting for a command.
Lastly in Settings, make sure your personal information in your Contact list is added. This information was probably added when you first set up your phone.
One of the coolest and perhaps easiest features of Siri is the ability to tell it to call someone. You can activate Siri, and say “Call [say person or company’s name]”, and Siri will dial the number for you. It’s that easy.
But let’s set up Siri to make some personal connections. Send the following command to Siri: “My wife [or husband] is [say her name].” If you send this command clearly, Siri will add that identity as part of your Contact information. After this is done, you can send the command, “Call my wife,” and Siri will know the name of the person you’re referring to. If your wife’s work number is listed in your Contacts, you can say, “Call my wife’s job.”
Open your Contacts list and locate other relationships you would like to create, such as “My doctor is [say her or his name as it is listed in your Contacts], “My hairdresser is…”, or “My son’s school is….” Just be sure the information you’re identifying is in your Contacts list.
Siri may need some help understanding unique names. For example it couldn’t at first pronounce my name, “Bakari” correctly. If you run into the same problem, tap on the Edit button in your Contacts info, scroll down and tap “add field” and then select, “Nickname.”
In the nickname field, try to type the phonetic spelling of your name. Typing “Ba-kar-e” worked for me. Note also that a nickname can be anything you want, such as “Master,” “Sexy“, or “Super Mom.” Siri will use your nickname when addressing you. This type of nickname setup can also be used for any of your contacts.
Wolfram Alpha vs. Search Engines
As you probably have seen in the iPhone commercials for Siri, you can have Siri look up information for you on the internet using by default the Google search engine. You can say, “Search for vegetarian pasta recipes,” or “Search Wikipedia for Abraham Lincoln.”
Siri also uses another service called Wolfram Alpha that provides specific answers to queries, instead of giving you lots of articles and other documents to search through. So say you’re in a store and you want to know the amount of percentage savings you will get on a product sale. You can, for example, raise your iPhone to your ear and ask, “What is 15% of $86.74.”
You can ask all types of factual questions, such as, “How many dollars is €45?”, “How far away is the Sun?”, or “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” If the results of your query can’t be found on Wolfram, Siri uses Google’s search engine instead.
By the way, you can change the primary search engine that Siri uses by going into Settings > Safari > Search Engine, and change it from Google to Yahoo!, or Bing.
Pretty much any searchable information you need, Siri can try to find. Other things you can say:
- What is the weather forecast for San Francisco this weekend?
- Driving directions from here [current location] to the nearest gas station.
- Directions back home [it uses the address in your Contact information]
- Set an alarm for tomorrow morning.
- Launch [say the name of an app in your device, such as “Photos”]
- Text [say a contact’s name] and then dictate your message.
- By tickets for the movie, [say the name of a movie]
Say “Good Bye”
One last tip for Siri – anytime you’re using Siri you can say “Cancel” to stop the process, and start over. If you want to quit completely out of Siri without pushing the Home button, just say “Goodbye,” “See you later,” “Bye“, or some similar command.
Siri is going to misunderstand you probably 5-10% of the time, but the more you use it, the more it learns your voice, contacts, and frequent commands. If you’re a frequent Siri user, let us know about your experience with this advanced voice feature. And if you’re new to Siri, what are some commands you’re trying to figure out?