How do I use Siri on macOS Sierra? What features does Siri for Mac have?
Apple announced a slew of new things at WWDC 2016 including the much anticipated introduction of Siri, its voice-activated assistant, to its Mac computers. If you're after the full lowdown on the announcement of macOS Sierra, here is our roundup.
Siri for Mac UK release date: When will Siri for Mac come out?
Apple will introduce Siri for Mac with its macOS Sierra operating system update, the successor to the current OS X El Capitan. Sierra will be a free update for many Mac users when it is released to the public in September 2016.
How to use Siri in macOS: How to set up Siri
When installing macOS Sierra you will be asked if you wish to Enable Siri. Highlight the checkbox marked "Enable Siri on this Mac" and click Continue.
How to use Siri in macOS: Activate Siri on your Mac
Siri, naturally, allows you to control various aspects of macOS (got to get used to typing and saying that!) with your voice, just like you may already do on your iPhone. Built-in voice search leads the way in the OS update alongside a slew of other Siri voice commands for Mac.
Whereas Siri on the iPhone and iPad is activated by holding down the Home button, there are several ways to activate Siri in macOS:
- Siri sits alongside all your other apps in your dock. Click the Siri icon in the dock, or command-click and choose Show Siri.
- A Siri shortcut appears in the Menu bar at the top of the screen (just next to the Notifications icon). Click it to activate Siri.
- Hold down Command-Space. This is also the shortcut for Spotlight, the difference being you hold the keys down (rather than tap them). You can change this to a different shortcut in Settings.
Siri sits pretty in the app dock next to all your other best loved programs, and will go a long way to replicating the usefulness of the iPhone version, such is our working, productive relationship with our Macs compared to our phones.
How to use Siri in macOS: What you can ask Siri for
Users can call on Siri to help with local and cloud based storage searches as well as pulling in information and images from the web. This means that search results, much like those usually found via Spotlight can be pinned to the notifications centre. Like you might keep things in Finder, these can then be imported to various Mac apps, and is another great way to draw on and incorporate new information into your work and play using Siri.
Siri for macOS has all the usual fixtures from iOS, things like asking about the weather and dictating messages.
But it also has a few unique features in macOS. You can use it to search for files, or folders you know of. You can ask Siri how much free space you have on your Mac, for example. Or use it to turn settings on and off.
Another neat trick in Siri for macOS is its integration with Finder. Yuu can drag and drop images and information from the results to a window on your desktop. Items found in Siri can be dragged directly into apps like Mail or Pages.
Apple also announced that it is opening the floodgates for developers to work with Siri - before WWDC, this had always been exclusively worked on in-house by Apple. We hope this invitation will be extended beyond iOS, but for the moment it is limited to the mobile OS for developers.
You'll also be able to address iMessages hands-free as they come in on your iPhone - a cross platfrom synchronisation dream come true. It follows on from personal assitants making their way to computers after Microsoft's Cortana and Google's Now.
WWDC 2016: Podcast - WWDC report
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast dissect the announcements of WWDC, including Siri on Mac, in its 19th episode. We've embedded the audio below in case you'd like to hear what the team have to say. The WWDC section starts at the 26:30 point.
A new episode of the UK Tech Weekly Podcast comes out every Friday. Follow them on Twitter for links to the latest episodes.
Siri for Mac wishlist: What Apple didn't announce for Siri on macOS Sierra
Do you use Siri? Would you use it on a Mac? Tell us in the poll below.
Macworld video: WWDC 2016 wrapup show
Our colleagues at Macworld US have put together a post-conference wrapup show, in which they discuss Siri on the Mac and a host of other announcements from WWDC 2016. Take a look.
While it's clear that Siri will have its place on Mac docks around the world soon, the Siri icon in the top menu bar, which was leaked previously, has yet to surface. MacRumors posted screenshots of Siri's dock and menu bar icons in previous weeks, so it remains to be seen if the menu bar icon has been dropped from the final version of macOS Sierra.
Siri for Mac interface and features: Patent activity
Further clues about the features, design and interface details of Siri for Mac can be found in Apple's patent activity over recent years.
Back in 2013 the 92-page patent application titled "Intelligent Digital Assistant in a Desktop Environment" suggested that Siri would enhance MacBook capabilities. In the patent application Apple suggested that: "The integration of an at least partially voice-controlled intelligent digital assistant into a desktop, laptop, and/or tablet computer environment provides additional capabilities to the digital assistant, and enhances the usability and capabilities of the desktop, laptop, and/or tablet computer." You can read the patent application here.
At the time the patent appeared it was thought that the patent application indicated that Siri was making the move from Apple's mobile platform iOS to OS X Yosemite, and yet both Yosemite and El Capitan have now launched without Siri implementation beyond the enhanced Dictation features that arrived with Yosemite.
In another, more recent patent, mentioned here (although we can't find anything to back it up) Apple is said to describe a way of using a wired connection to enable devices such as the MacBook Pro and even the iPod to gain Siri's voice activation capabilities.
For more on Siri, take a look at our Complete guide to Siri: 'Hey Siri!' and all the other Siri features
Siri for Mac interface and features: What will Siri on the Mac be able to do?
The original patent application referred to above explains that most desktop, laptop, and tablet computer operating systems "support more complex and sophisticated interactions and functionalities than many small mobile devices".
Apple highlights some of the difficulties with multitasking and suggests that Siri could become a "third hand". The patent application notes that a user is limited to interacting only with the foremost window, as a solution it suggests using the digital assistant to perform the secondary task, perhaps a web search, while the user continues to focus on the task at hand.
Siri for Mac interface and features: How will Siri on the Mac work?
According to the patent, Siri could be activated via a trackpad gesture and once activated it will listen out for your commands. This wasn't confirmed at WWDC, with voice control taking centre stage, but it's a possibility that there might be further ways to contextualise Siri commands to give poor old Mac a helping hand.
The patent application also suggests that Siri on the Mac won’t only be reliant on speech commands, but the commands will be taken contextually. For example, a "focus selector" (mouse cursor) would help to apply context to the command (for example, if you want to paste text into a document you would place the mouse pointer where you wanted the text to appear).
In an example illustrated in the patent application is a selection of files and the command: "Sort these by date and merge into a new document."
The arrival of natural language search in OS X El Capitan also hints that Siri might eventually arrive on the Mac. Now that users can search Spotlight for "photos added last week" or "emails about Croydon", it is surely only a matter of time before such searches can be voice activated.
Siri for Mac interface and features: Siri and the connected home
Another example illustrated by Apple's patent filing shows a user asking to view a movie on a different screen, which could be a second screen or a TV that is plugged into - this hints at Apple's plans for the connected home using its new HomeKit framework. Something mentioned in the iOS 10 keynote but not in macOS.
Siri for Mac interface and features: Working with iOS
Siri on the Mac may also act in conjunction with iOS, as part of Apple's aim for better Continuity between the two platforms. The "Intelligent Digital Assistant in a Desktop Environment" patent states that the Mac version of the digital assistant could be "invoked to cooperate with the user to complete a task that the user has already started on a user device".
This sounds a bit like Handoff, a feature that arrived in 2014 with iOS 8 and Yosemite, that allows you to start an email on your iPhone and then finish it on your Mac, for example.
Back in August 2014, AppleInsider noted that Siri for Mac would have an identical backend off-site server to Siri for iOS.
How to get Siri on the Mac now
If you're running OS X 10.8 or later, it is possible to hear the Siri voice on your Mac. But it's not really Siri as we know Siri on the iPhone. You can get your Mac to dictate text to you and you can dictate text to your Mac and get it to transcribe it. But there is none of the artificial intelligence associated with Siri in iOS.
To get the voice of Siri to read to you, turn on Text to Speech in System Preferences > Dictation & Speech. By clicking on Text to Speech you will be making it possible for your Mac to read the words on your screen. Daniel is the male voice of Siri in the UK, Samantha is the voice Siri uses in the US. There are lots of other voices to choose from - they will need to be downloaded from Apple's servers.
By turning on Dictation in the Dictation & Speech tab you can get you Mac to transcribe what you say to it. Pick your language and your shortcut to start up dictation.
Using Dictation features on your Mac could allow you to dictate a Spotlight search phrase, but your Mac wouldn't read the answer back to you as Siri would.
There used to be more functionality in earlier versions of OS X - prior to Yosemite. In these earlier versions of OS X, Speech had some Siri-like functionality, you could highlight text and say "Make this into a sticky note"; or you could speak the name of a menu, and then the name of an option within that menu to access it; you could say "Set an alarm for 3 minutes"; you could schedule meetings; and more. However, these features have disappeared in later versions of OS X.
There are some Dictation commands available in the Accessibility portion of System Preferences. But these are more for navigating around a document, "replace xxx with yyy" or "undo that" or "scroll up".
If you want to get something like the Siri experience on your Mac, you can Enable advanced commands in this window. This allows you to choose a phrase, assign it to an application and choose what action the Mac should perform. For example, you could choose a phrase that if you spoke it then Apple would unmounts a USB drive.
Here you can also set up a dictation keyword phrase, which could be Hey Siri if you wanted.
If you want to see what was possible prior to Yosemite, there's a video over on Macworld.com.
Alternatives to Siri on the Mac
There may be no Siri on the Mac, but you can use Cortana. However, you will only be able to run it in Windows via Parallels 11.
When running Windows 10 in Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac you can call on Cortana to "Open Safari", "Open Pages" or any Mac OS X app. You can also request real-time location data, as well as tell Cortana to open Windows apps (whether you are in Window mode or Coherence mode where Windows in invisible).