Macworld Masterclass: Make the most of Siri

Macworld Masterclass: Make the most of Siri

Speaking Siri’s language for a better working relationship

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  • Intro 1
  • Step 1: Siri Set Up 2
  • Step 2: Speaking my language 3
  • Step 3: Trigger Siri 4
  • Step 4: Get to work 5
  • Step 5: Join the cue 6
  • Step 6: Forgotten cues 7
  • Step 7: Punctuate your speech 8
  • Step 8: Changing mistakes 9
  • Step 9: Name your friends 10
  • Step 10: Read it to me 11
  • Step 11: Create reminders 12
  • Step 12: Make an appointment 13
  • Step 13: Whatever the weather 14
  • Step 14: Summon your music 15
  • Step 15: Lock Siri away 16
  • Bonus tip: What Siri can't do 17
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Step 1 of 17: Intro

Siri can be fun and Siri can be infuriating. From joking around and asking your iPhone’s artificially intelligent assistant the meaning of life, or trying to get it to partake in a knock-knock joke, to persuading Siri to help you send an email or text, or add an appointment to your calendar, Siri can enhance your experience with your iPhone. However, getting Siri to understand you can sometimes be tricky. It’s not our English accents that appear to have it stumped, but rather the way we phrase our questions and requests. It doesn’t have to be so difficult to get through to Siri, though. Here are our tips for getting the most out of your new PA.

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Step 2 of 17: Step 1: Siri Set Up

Apple describes Siri as an intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done, just by asking. Right now the feature is a Beta, which Apple is committed to improving over time. To get Siri working on your iPhone 4S go to Settings > General > Siri. There are a number of options on this page. You can choose whether or not you want Siri to give you Voice Feedback, and whether you want Siri to be triggered if you raise your phone to your face (Raise to Speak). Ensure your details are in My Info if you want Siri to address you by name. You can also select your language. 

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Step 3 of 17: Step 2: Speaking my language

If you speak with an English accent then English (United Kingdom) will do a better job of understanding you than English (Australia/United States), so it’s worth sticking with that voice, even if you find it a little pompous. Apple claims the more you use Siri, the better it will understand you. Siri learns your accent and characteristics of your voice and uses voice recognition algorithms to categorise your voice into one of the dialects or accents it understands. Apple claims as more people use Siri, and it’s exposed to more variations of language, its recognition of accents will improve.

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Step 4 of 17: Step 3: Trigger Siri

For Siri to work you will need a 3G or WiFi connection as it needs to connect to Apple’s servers to process your commands. To activate Siri hold down the Home button or lift the iPhone to your ear (if Raise to Speak was selected earlier). You’ll hear two quick beeps to indicate that Siri is listening. Siri also works with headphones. Siri will process your command once you stop talking – if you are in a noisy environment you might need to tap the microphone icon to tell Siri you’ve finished talking. We found that Siri would often cut us off mid sentence if we didn’t speak forcefully enough.

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Step 5 of 17: Step 4: Get to work

If you are wondering what Siri can do for you, ask it. We asked Siri: “What can you do?” and were given a long list including: Call Andrew; Tell Claire I’ll be right there; Set up a meeting at 9; Email Harriet about the trip; Wake me up tomorrow at 7am; What’s Stuart’s address?; Where’s Andrew?; and more. These instructions work with a variety of apps including: Phone, Music, Messages, Calendar, Reminders, Email, Weather, Stocks, Clock, Address Book, Find My Friends, and Notes. If you use the English (United States) Siri you can search for US-based services, including restaurants, and access Maps.

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Step 6 of 17: Step 5: Join the cue

When asking Siri to carry out an instruction you need to include cue words to get the best results. For example, if you want to send a friend an iMessage and tell Siri: “iMessage Ashleigh I’m testing Siri”, Siri will ask you for the content of the message, even though you told it. You need to say “iMessage Ashleigh that I’m testing Siri”. The word ‘that’ is key to telling Siri what the content of the message is. Other key words are: ‘say’, ‘tell him/her’. Don’t treat Siri like it’s actually relaying the message. If you say: “iMessage David that he will have his article soon”, Siri will send a message starting “he will” rather than “you will”.

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Step 7 of 17: Step 6: Forgotten cues

If you forgot to use a cue word you can tap into Siri’s misfired transcription and correct it without needing to repeat yourself. Scroll up to where Siri transcribed your instruction incorrectly and amend it by tapping on the mis-transcribed text so it becomes editable. Insert the missing cue word and then tap Done. Siri will reprocess the instruction and will know what you wanted. As long as your hands are free this is far easier and quicker than starting over again. You could use the same method to correct a misheard phrase – in our case Siri often misheard ‘Siri’ as ‘theory’.

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Step 8 of 17: Step 7: Punctuate your speech

If you want Siri to transcribe what you say you must punctuate your speech. Siri understands terms like ‘new paragraph’, ‘semicolon’ and even ‘smiley face’. For an email to a colleague we said: “Dear David comma new paragraph I’m working on that Siri story we discussed comma and I expect it will be ready soon exclamation mark”. Say “All caps” if you want the next word to be uppercase. Or “All caps on/All caps off” to toggle Caps Lock. Say “cap” to capitalise a single word: “I named the new section cap Product cap News”. You can even say “copyright” for the copyright sign. 

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Step 9 of 17: Step 8: Changing mistakes

What if Siri gets the transcription wrong? If what Siri puts in the content of the message isn’t what you were aiming for, it is possible to change it just by speaking. Say: “Change the message to” and repeat the content of the message. Unfortunately, if Siri transcribes your message almost perfectly, there’s no way to tell it to tweak one small error. You must either edit manually, or start dictating the message all over again, which can be frustrating. In our example Siri misunderstood the words “we can” as “wiki”; tapping on the message took us into email so that we could edit it.

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Step 10 of 17: Step 9: Name your friends

If Siri is having trouble understanding the names of your friends, or if a lot of your friends have the same name, you can give Siri a helping hand by assigning titles to the important people in your life. For example, tell Siri: “Kevin is my brother” then you can tell Siri to “iMessage my Brother”. This is particularly helpful if your partner has the same name as your boss. You can tell Siri who your mother-in-law, best friend, and nemesis are. Just use real words that Siri can recognise. The relationships you tell Siri about are added to your address book. You can also add them manually, if necessary.

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Step 11 of 17: Step 10: Read it to me

If you are driving a car, or jogging, for example, and an iMessage arrives you can ask Siri to read it to you. Just say: “Read message”, after it reads the message (or messages) it gives you the option to reply, so you can receive and reply to a message without ever tapping the screen. After receiving a iMessage say: “Reply to [NAME], I agree completely” to create your response. You can ask Siri to read an iMessage back to you before you send it out. Siri can’t read your emails. When we asked it to read an email it told us we had more than 25 emails and it couldn’t read them.

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Step 12 of 17: Step 11: Create reminders

You can get Siri to remind you to do something using the Reminders app. Say: “Remind me to pick up the milk when I leave here”, and Siri will set a Reminder dependent on your location. If Siri gets a reminder wrong, you can say: “Change that to buy milk” and Siri will make the correction. You could ask Siri to “Remind me to buy iTunes vouchers two days before Christmas” and it will set the alert for 23 December. 9am is the default, so you’ll have to specify a time if you need to. If you add a Shopping List to Reminders, you could tell Siri: “Add buy milk to shopping list”. 

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Step 13 of 17: Step 12: Make an appointment

Like writing messages, scheduling meetings and events using Siri is easier if you use a selection of cue words. Ask Siri to: “Schedule a dentist appointment on Thursday at two thirty”, and it will do so – even alerting you to any clashes. Telling Siri: “Dentist, 2.30 Wednesday”, won’t work. Ask: “What meetings do I have tomorrow?”, and Siri will inform you of your appointments. You can also try: “Reschedule my planning meeting to 10 January at 3pm”. We had no luck adding a birthday to the calendar until we tried: “Schedule dad’s birthday on thirtieth of March”.

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Step 14 of 17: Step 13: Whatever the weather

You can ask Siri about the weather in your local area or in a specified location. Ask: “What’s the weather like?”, and Siri will give you a six-day forecast for your current location. Ask: “Is it going to snow?”, and if snow is forecast in the next six days Siri will answer in the affirmative. Ask Siri: “What’s the weather like right now?”, and it will give you an hour-by-hour account based on your location. Ask: “What’s the weather like in Croydon on Sunday?”, and it will show you a six-day forecast with Sunday highlighted. The weather app is limited to six days, so Siri won’t know what the weather will be like next month.

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Step 15 of 17: Step 14: Summon your music

One advantage over the Voice Control feature that features on older iPhones is extra functionality when playing back music. Siri can summon a particular song, not just an album, artist or playlist. Tell Siri: “Play Bittersweet Symphony” and it will play the track. However, after the music stops your phone will go silent – you can’t tell Siri to play a song and then shuffle music. Tell Siri: “Play Michael Jackson” and it will play just one Jackson song, if you want it to play more, tell Siri: “Play all Michael Jackson songs”. When each song finishes you can say: “Play next”. 

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Step 16 of 17: Step 15: Lock Siri away

While your iPhone 4S is locked you can still hold down the Home button to activate Siri, compose an email or text, and send it. This is useful, but it also means someone other than you could send a message. It’s possible to prevent Siri access on a locked iPhone. Turn off Siri access in Settings > General > Passcode Lock. Another issue is that Siri can drain the battery. To save the battery go to Settings > General > Siri and disable Raise to Speak. This feature invokes Siri when you lift the phone to your face, but it can really drain the battery. Don’t disable Siri, it will wipe all the information Siri has gained about you.

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Step 17 of 17: Bonus tip: What Siri can't do

Siri can compose emails but it can’t read them. Given that Siri can already read text messages it seems a strange omission. It would be good if Siri could read details from other apps like Notes, or appointments in your Calendar. At the moment Siri says: “I can’t read your notes to you”. It would also be helpful if Siri could launch apps. Right now it says: “I’d like to, but I’m not allowed to”. And it would be great if Siri could edit contacts. Being able to tell it: “Add news@macworld.co.uk as Ben’s email address” would be handy.

Another handy one would be: “Open Macworld.co.uk”. Instead you have to tell Siri to search for Macworld. We have high hopes that Siri will one day support non-Apple apps; as yet it’s but a dream.

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