Looking for Siri tips? After Macworld readers vented their spleens about Siri, Apple's much-maligned voice control personal assistant for the iPhone and iPad, we came up with solutions to the 10 most annoying problems. From failures of understanding to difficulty with accents, here's our ultimate guide to Siri troubleshooting.
See: New Siri features in iOS 7 and How to use Siri on the iPhone
Isn't Siri rubbish? Well, that's a matter of opinion, but Apple's voice-activated 'personal assistant', introduced with the iPhone 4S and later made available on iPad, certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea.
On Twitter we recently asked Macworld readers if they use Siri, and why. Perhaps surprisingly, about half said they use it - and while some of those use it fairly rarely, others defended the feature staunchly, as we recounted in out feature '10 things about Siri that make it worthwhile'.
In this article, however, we're going to concentrate on the bad stuff: the reasons why the other half gave it a go and recoiled with horror, never to ask for Siri's help again.
So: what is it that makes Siri so rubbish?
Reasons to hate Siri: Sometimes Siri doesn't work in the way you want
Simon Davies was put off Siri by his first (and only) experience. "Nope. Tried once. Gave up."
"To be honest, I find it quite useless," added Abdullah.
Solution: Don't be put off by one bad experience, Simon! Siri can do lots of stuff but it takes a little while to get used to its way of working. We've got a list of Siri questions (scroll down past the funny ones and you'll see there are many, many useful questions you can ask). And bear in mind that Siri is constantly improving: Apple is continually adding features, and it should get better at interpreting your wishes the more you use it.
For more ideas of the questions that Siri can handle, press and hold the Home button to activate Siri, but don't ask it anything. After a short wait it will start cycling through several pages of sample questions.
If your issue is that Siri can't understand your requests, rather than not knowing which questions are likely to produce useful results, try the fixes we list before for accent problems.
Reasons to hate Siri: Can't understand British accents
Will Leitch complained about Siri's ability to grasp our multifarious Brit voices. "The interaction bit is useless with UK and Irish accents," he writes. "Never seems to learn."
"It only recognises what I say about 10 percent of the time," sighs Lee Peterson. Sorry Lee, what was that?
OwenScott never uses the feature at all, for precisely this reason. "Can't understand my accent," he explains.
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How to make Siri understand a British accent
We're very sorry to say this - firmly opposed as Macworld is to the homogenisation of British accents - but it may be worth developing a 'Siri voice' in the same way our parents' generation had telephone voices. Just talk a bit posher. And try speaking very clearly and slowly. (Find that embarrassing? We deal with that later on.)
Here's how not to do it:
On a less class-sensitive level, check the microphone on your iOS device is clear and that you've removed the case if it blocks this. Apple has a handy Siri troubleshooting guide with some more advice related to this.
Reasons to hate Siri: It's so dependent on an internet connection
Our own Ashleigh Allsopp uses Siri regularly, but pointed out: "I never use Siri unless I'm on WiFi. It's the most irritating thing ever because it requires an internet connection to do EVERYTHING!"
Jim Martin, who is the editor of our sister website PC Advisor, echoed Ashleigh’s comments. "In my view, Apple needs to build in on-board recognition for simple commands - timers, alarms, playing music, sending messages etc - that doesn't need an internet connection.
"In the car this is a major problem. Drive anywhere without a 3G signal and you're scuppered. There's no saying 'Text my wife to say I'm running an hour late because of bad traffic'."
Solution: We can't get past this fundamental limitation of Siri's technology and entirely agree with Jim's idea. But remember that Voice Control (which offers a few similar functions, such as letting you dial contacts' numbers verbally) does work offline. If you want to use that instead, you'll need to switch off Siri: Go to Settings > General > Siri.
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Reasons to hate Siri: Information may be out of date
Macworld’s production editor, Rob Woodcock, writes: "Some of the information Siri provides is seriously out of date. In Tunbridge Wells, for example, it directs people to a hospital that closed down two years ago."
(Rob is a great champion of Tunbridge Wells and its municipal facilities.)
Solution: We wouldn't depend on Siri in life-or-death situations - such as medical emergencies - at this point. It remains a work in progress. But, like Maps, Siri is getting better. And without meaning any disrepect to the fine town of Tunbridge Wells, Siri will be at its best in larger cities.
Of course, if you regularly use Siri, you'll have a good idea of its strengths in your home town, and the sorts of information it can be depended on to provide in a pinch.
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Reasons to hate Siri: You need a quiet environment
Jim Martin was also displeased that Siri's auditory fussiness means he can't use it to work in his favoured location. "The pub would be too noisy for Siri to understand," he worried. "Probably."
How to use Siri in a noisy place
Speaking slowly and clearly directly into the microphone (and, as we mentioned previously, checking that the microphone is clear and unobstructed) will improve your chances of getting Siri to understand you, but our experience suggests that Siri is actually okay in moderately noisy places. Pub, yes. Late-night discotheque, perhaps not - in those places you're better off typing out searches and using menus manually.
Macworld Masterclass: Make the most of Siri
Reasons to hate Siri: Doesn’t inspire confidence
Rick Lecoat doesn't yet feel confident enough to depend on Siri. "Got excited when I realised I could set an alarm or timer," he says, "but inevitably I then confirm it's set as intended - so benefit lost."
Solution: When you checked, Rick, did it turn out that Siri had done the job as expected? From the way you describe this, it sounds like it did. As with most of these issues, our advice would be to keep on using the feature - confidence will come in time, after Siri has done its job five times, or 10 times, without a problem. For simple tasks it really can be handy.
Reasons to hate Siri: It’s annoying
Gareth Llewellyn assured us that he only uses Siri "when I have a pressing need to be annoyed beyond belief".
Solution: First, cheer yourself by asking Siri a few funny questions. Hopefully that'll soothe the annoyance a bit.
If Siri's smug voice (and British Siri, with no offence intended to the voice artist, can be a bit pompous) is winding you up, put him on mute - go to Settings > General > Siri > Voice Feedback and select Hands-free Only. That way the responses will appear on screen rather than being spoken aloud (unless you plug in a hands-free kit).
Reasons to hate Siri: It’s embarrassing to use
Ryan J. Nicholson reckons Siri is "too embarrassing to use in public. People would just think I'm talking to a phone."
Solution: Well, first of all you can use Siri with a hands-free kit, such as a Bluetooth headset, which if you're reasonably subtle will make people think you're having a real conversation with a person. It's also less likely to attract attention from muggers.
Secondly, surely the embarrassment factor depends on where you use Siri? Whipping out the iPhone for a word with Siri in a nice pub full of middle-aged people with real jobs is probably going to make you look like a spiv, but a street in Dalston should be fine. A general rule is that if you'd feel self-conscious taking a photo with an iPad, using Siri is probably not on.
We think voice control technology has a big future, and in the next few years you'll look less and less peculiar using Siri in public.
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Reasons to hate Siri: Personality clashes
Some Macworld readers find it hard to get on with Apple's chirpy personal assistant.
"She never understands me," explained Sarah Taylor. "We fell out quite quickly." This sounds like many of our early relationships.
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Solution: You can change Siri's personality - sort of - by changing his voice, although at present your options are limited. Go to Settings > General > Siri > Language and change it to English (United States); you then get the option of a male or female voice.
But this cosmetic alteration brings a material change too - US Siri is designed to understand US accents, and is more likely to get confused when you talk in a Brummie drawl. We told US Siri she was having a laugh, as in the screenshot in the British accent section above, and she interpreted that as "You honey love".
Instead, we'd suggest putting Siri on mute, as explained in the 'Siri is annoying' section, and waiting it out for a new UK voice. The US has male and female Siri voices now, so we're likely to get the same options at some point.
(It would also be nice if you could choose the US, Australian or Canadian voice to listen to while retaining the UK comprehension of your voice, if anyone at Apple is listening.)
Finally, for the jailbreakers out there (standard disclaimer: jailbreaking your iPhone or iPad is likely to void your warranty, and may damage your device), it's possible to set a custom wallpaper for when Siri is active. It's hard to stay mad at Siri if he has Jesse Pinkman's face.
Reasons to hate Siri: Not memorable
Is this Siri's fault? Possibly - after all, if it's not providing a valuable service, why would we remember it's there?
"I don't find it that useful and forget it's there most of the time," said Adrian R, who uses Siri "rarely".
Solution: Start off with a couple of things that you know Siri can do easily - voice dialling and dictating reminders and appointments, say. After a while this will become second nature. You can build up your repertoire from there.
If you're really struggling to remember that Siri is there, maybe you could change your wallpaper to this:
Reasons to hate Siri: And finally…
Two more thoughts on Siri. Chris Towndrow informs us that "there's a nice bloke in our local Waitrose called Siri". Thanks for that.
But the last word goes to Adam, who offers a melancholy insight into his romantic affairs: "I've always had Siri and I've never used it. Today's version of a condom."
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Apple stores your Siri queries for up to two years
Official Apple Siri FAQs
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