Complete guide to Siri: Updates in iOS 8.3 & how to use Siri features on iPad/iPhone
- 24 April, 2015 00:42
Our complete guide to Siri explains how to use Siri, details all the Siri features and commands (including the new questions introduced in iOS 8.3) and helps you get more out of Siri on your iPhone or iPad.
Using Siri, Apple's voice assistant, you can speak commands to your iPad or iPhone and have it do your bidding. To activate Siri, hold down the Home button on your compatible iPad or iPhone (iPhone 4S or newer, iPad 3 or newer, all generations of iPad mini and iPod touch 5th gen or newer), or hold down the control button on your earphones.
Siri is constantly improving: it became faster and more reliable than ever with iOS 7 and iOS 7.1, gaining new features and a female voice for the UK, and iOS 8 added music identification, "'Hey Siri!" voice activation and real-time feedback of the words Siri thinks you're saying.
And now that the Apple Watch is imminent (its official release date is 24 April), Apple is working even harder to improve Siri, as it's one of the key ways of interacting with the smartwatch. We've noticed a definite speed boost for Siri in iOS 8.3, too.
Siri works by recording your voice and sending it to a server that interprets what you've said and returns plain text. If you haven't got an internet connection, Siri won't work.
Siri is a massive leap forward over old-fashioned speech recognition. This used to require a strict vocabulary and couldn't do very much. Worse still, for non-Americans, voice recognition struggled with European, Australian and other accents.
Siri doesn't require a strict vocabulary, and it'll generally figure out what you're trying to say. That makes interacting with it seem much more natural. It also works pretty well with a range of accents, and has American, British and Australian settings, as well as French, German, Italian, Spanish and more. The iOS 8.3 update introduced new languages including Russian, Danish, Dutch, Thai, Swedish, Turkish and Portuguese.
Siri is comprehensive. It's tied into Messages, Calendar, Music, Reminders, Maps, Mail, Weather, Stocks, Clock, Contacts, Notes and Safari. It's also linked to Wolfram Alpha, the computational knowledge engine that can provide answers to numerous factual questions, and Yelp, the directory of local businesses.
Siri is also capable of searching Twitter and adjusting Settings, and it can perform a web search for you. These days it uses Bing as the default search engine, but specifically asking Siri to "Google" something results in it using Google instead.
Read more on Siri:
How to set up Siri: Get started with Siri voice commands
Getting started with Siri couldn't be easier. Simply press and hold the Home button. The background will blur, you'll hear a 'ba-ding' noise and 'What can I help you with?' appears onscreen. You should also see a wavy white line at the bottom of the screen.
Simply speak your request into the iPad or iPhone. When you've finished speaking, the white line turns into a round microphone icon and Siri will get back to you with an answer. Sometimes it takes Siri a few moments to think about the answer, but it's a lot faster than it used to be, particularly now that iOS 8.3 has arrived.
You can also manually control how long Siri listens to you for, rather than waiting for it to detect that you've stopped speaking. To do this, hold down the Home button while you say your command or ask a question, and release it when you've finished.
In the UK, the male Siri voice was updated in iOS 7.1 to sound less robotic and more natural, and a new female voice option was added. You can switch Siri's gender to female by going to Settings > General > Siri and tapping Voice Gender.
You can ask Siri all sorts of things, and the more you use Siri the more accurate it becomes. You soon become aware of just how useful it can be, and what its boundaries are. It knows a lot about weather, restaurants, films and football, for example, but nothing about Formula One.
It is also hooked up to the Maps application, so it can locate businesses, movie times, restaurants and bars near you. One of the great things about Siri is asking it to find things in your local area.
There are a few scenarios in which Siri truly excels. The first of those is when you're in a hands-free situation, mostly likely when driving a car. (The iPad knows when you're going hands-free and becomes chattier, reading text aloud that it might not if it knows you're holding it in your hand.) Siri is also deeply integrated with the directions feature in Maps, and the iPad works as a fantastic (if slightly oversized) voice-activated satnav.
When you get a message, you can instruct Siri to read the message, and it will. You can then tell it to reply to the message, dictate the entire message, have Siri read it back to you to confirm that it makes sense, and then send it. You can also ask Siri to read out your Mail messages and it'll let you know who sent you a message and what the subject line is.
In the rest of this feature we'll list all the commands and features you can activate using Siri, but Siri itself will offer some tips in this regard. Start Siri going by holding the Home button, then wait without asking any questions: Siri will start cycling through pages of suggested commands.
How to use Siri: Get Siri to help you with daily tasks
Siri can access the Settings, which makes it much easier to quickly make changes. You can also ask it to search Twitter.
Even if you're not driving and don't intend to use it completely hands-free, Siri can still be useful. In fact, the feature proves that some tasks can be done much faster through speech than through clicking, tapping and swiping. It's much easier to set an alarm or timer using Siri than it is to unlock your tablet, find the Clock app, and tap within the app. Just say, "Set a timer for three minutes", and your iPad begins to count down until your tea is ready. "Set an alarm for 5am" does what you'd expect, instantly. "Remind me to record my favourite show" and "Note that I need to take my suit to the cleaners" work, too. These are short bursts of data input that can be handled quickly by voice, and we've found they work well.
It's also much faster to ask Siri to access settings than it is to dive through the menu. You can just say "Change wallpaper" rather than opening Settings and tapping Wallpaper.
You will soon become impressed by Siri's ability to understand the context of conversations. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's magical. We asked Siri for suggestions for places to have lunch and it provided us with a list of nearby restaurants that serve lunch.
Talking to your iPad or iPhone is not much different from talking on your mobile phone. It's not appropriate in all contexts. If, for example, you're quietly reading in the library and need to set a reminder, you should use the Reminders app, not Siri. And if you're out in public, well, you can use Siri, but you do risk people giving you funny looks.
Apple's integration of Wolfram Alpha with Siri is a smart move. If you need answers to factual questions, such as the speed of light or the number of days until Christmas, the answer engine can provide the solution.
How to use Siri: How to use 'Hey Siri!'
A new feature added in iOS 8, which arrived in September 2014 is known as Hey Siri, and it's very sci-fi.
By saying those words ("Hey, Siri!"), you can activate Siri from a sleep state without pressing the Home button at all. The device will wake up, Siri will start, and it will listen out for your next command.
(Sadly this only works when the iPad or iPhone is plugged into a power supply - otherwise, presumably, your iDevice would burn through its battery supply from constantly listening out for the magic words.)
It's very cool, albeit not always incredibly reliable. The feature appears to be deactivated by default, so if it's not working (and remember that the device needs to be plugged in as well), try going to Settings > General > Siri and then slide the switch next to 'Allow "Hey Siri"' so that it's green. And of course, if you're concerned about battery life - or people keep passing your desk and saying "Hey Siri play Don't Stop Believin'" - you can deactivate it in the same options menu.
We've found that, while charging, Siri will sometimes get overexcited and think you've said Hey Siri, when actually you said nothing of the sort. You could accidentally call someone you're talking about this way, so be careful!
How to use Siri: Personal dictation
Siri can hunt down business, movie and sport information, as well as answer general questions.
While Siri gets the bulk of the iOS feature hype, another speech-related technology may prove to be more important and a bigger boost to user productivity. On the keyboard you'll see a new button in the bottom row, to the left of the spacebar, with the image of a microphone on it. Tap this button and the iPad will transcribe whatever you say. It sends the results over the internet to a server that analyses your speech and converts it into text. We were impressed at just how fast the results came back, especially over Wi-Fi. And they were generally an accurate representation of what we had said.
To get the most out of dictation, you'll need to start thinking in punctuation. For example, to construct a decent email message, we might say, "Dan. Comma. New paragraph. What do you think about writing a review of iOS numeral five. Question mark. New paragraph. Let me know what you think. Exclamation point." However, it works.
Part of Siri's charm isn't in its feature set (which is still hit and miss), but its personable nature. Siri feels a lot less robotic than other voice-activated technology. Even when Siri gets out of its depth and doesn't know what to do, it's difficult to feel too frustrated.
And you can joke around with Siri. Apple has spent a lot of time providing Siri with a range of comebacks to joke questions (many geeky by nature). Try telling Siri you love it, or use common catchphrases such as "Who's your daddy?" or "Who let the dogs out?" These are constantly being updated, too - for example, a recent one is to keep saying "Okay Glass" (the phrase used to activate a rival product made by Google), and Siri starts to get annoyed.
There are lots of funny answers in Siri's memory banks. For more in that vein, take a look at Funny things to ask Siri, which we'll keep updating whenever we discover new wisecracks.
Siri is by no means perfect, and occasionally it can mistranslate what you're saying, either transcribing the wrong message or finding the wrong result from Contacts. But it gets better the more you use it, and the more useful it becomes. And it's fun! Siri is one of the most entertaining aspects of the iPad, so be sure to hold down the Home button and try it out.
Siri has a quirky sense of humour and will respond to geeky comments, flirtation and famous sayings.
In the video above we show you some of the new things you can ask Siri, plus the new UK voices added in iOS 7.
Use Siri to find out whose iPhone/iPad you've found
If you've found an iPhone or iPad that you can't unlock and you don't know who it belongs to, you can try asking Siri. Say, "Siri, who does this phone belong to?" and you will get their name and an alternative phone number if one is listed.
How to use Siri: Useful things to ask Siri about
But this is just the beginning - there are lots more useful things you can ask Siri about.
Siri improves the more you use it and once you begin to use of regularly, you realise just how useful and powerful it is.
Siri learns names quickly, if you keep repeating them and selecting the correct option from a list. So with a bit of practice you quickly hurdle the frustration of it attempting to text, message, or call the wrong person. And if you have relationships added - 'mum', 'dad', 'wife', 'husband' and so on - it quickly feels a lot less formal (You can say 'Sharan Parsons is my mum' and Siri will remember that, for example).
If you find that Siri pronounces your name wrong, you can say "Learn how to pronounce my name" and correct it.
Here are 10 things to say to Siri that you might not have tried:
1. Turn Bluetooth off.
2. Open an app.
3. Post to Facebook and Twitter.
4. What is 20 degrees centigrade in Fahrenheit?
5. How many calories in a Big Mac?
6. How much is a 10% tip on a £38.90 bill?
7. What is the square root of 81?
8. Flip a coin (also try Yes or No? and Roll a die).
9. What time is it in San Francisco?
10. Take a picture.
How to use Siri: Things to say to Siri in the UK
There are a few collections doing the rounds of things that you can say to Siri, but many of them are from the US, and as we know Siri works a little differently in the UK (although the fact it works at all is remarkable compared to other voice-activated systems). So we thought it'd be a good idea to list all the different things you can say to Siri in the UK. Here is a list for all the serious stuff you can say to Siri.
Ask Siri about: Maps
Direct me home.
Show me work.
Show me local traffic.
Show me the Statue Of Liberty.
Find pizza near me.
Where am I?
Get me directions from Leeds to Doncaster.
Are we there yet?
Find a petrol station near me.
Find a supermarket along the route.
Find a coffee shop near work.
Find me a bar near home.
Find a movie theatre in London.
What's the best restaurant near me?
When is the sunset in Saint Lucia?
Ask Siri about: Stocks
What is Apple's stock price?
What is Apple's P/E ratio?
What is Google's 52 week high?
What is Microsoft's market cap?
Compare Apple to Google.
Ask Siri about: Places
Find Trafalgar Square.
Where is New York?
Find a Restauarant near me.
Where's the best bar?
Ask Siri about: Social media
Send a tweet.
Note: You can't include Share this web page on Twitter or Post this page to Facebook
Ask Siri about: Safari
Search for BBC News.
Bing for elephants.
Search Google for images of cats.
Ask Siri about: The weather
What's the weather like?
What's the weather like in Barcelona?
What will the weather be this Sunday?
Is it going to rain this weekend?
What's the weather report in Berlin tomorrow?
Ask Siri about: Movies
What movies are on?
What's the best new movie?
Show me reviews for Batman Dark Knight Rises.
Where can I watch Skyfall movie?
Which movie won best picture last year?
Do people like Insurgent?
Ask Siri about: Apps
Play Angry Birds
Get the app Forever Lost 3
(What you can't do: Delete apps, move apps, go to the Home Screen)
Ask Siri about: Messages
Send a text to Jane.
Send a message to Karen Haslam and Ashleigh Allsopp.
Tell my wife I'm running late.
Reply I'm just testing out Siri.
Read my new messages.
Do I have any new messages from Lewis?
Ask Siri about: Email
Send an email to Jane.
Say Hi to Mum in an email. (In this case, 'Hi' will be the subject line.)
Reply what are we doing for Christmas?
Email Kate and say "sorry, I can't make it this weekend."
Mail Mum and say "looking forward to seeing you at Christmas" with a subject "Christmas". (Just say "a subject" and then whatever you want to use as the subject line. Note that if you say "a subject that says" iOS will put the "that says" into the Subject header.)
Any email from Simon today?
Did I get an email about football today? (This will search subject headers.)
Reply with "are we going to meet up this weekend?"
Ask Siri about: FaceTime
FaceTime Dad's iPhone.
Ask Siri about: Find My Friends
Where is Dave?
Ask Siri about: Music
Play songs by Abba.
Play First Cut Is The Deepest.
Play the Back to Black album.
Play the next track, or "next".
Play some random music.
Stop playing music.
Say "Genius" to play similar songs.
Finally - and this isn't something you're likely to be doing yourself, but we thought it was interesting to see - it turns out that Siri is a passable rapper. Well, passable might be pushing it. But a producer called Skeewiff has done a remix using Siri for vocals. It sounds like it took a fair bit of work:
How to tell Siri to identify music
While we're talking music, did you know that you can tell Siri to identify music?
As of iOS 8, you can identify music that's currently playing thanks to Siri's new Shazam integration. Activate Siri while a song is playing and it will display a moving audio waveform and a musical icon to indicate that it's interpreting the music. The it will tell you what song it was, and give links to Shazam itself and a Buy Now for iTunes.
If you later want to look back at the songs Siri has identified in the past, you can open the iTunes Store app on your device, tap the button in the top right corner with three lines, and then tap Siri. (I have no idea why I asked Siri to identify Santa Claus is Comin' to Town by Bruce Springsteen...)
Ask Siri about: Sport
(Note: We hope you like Premier League football. No Formula One, no cricket, no rugby, no golf and no football outside the top English league - yet. In fact, when we asked who was winning the Championship, Siri went ahead and decided we must mean the Premiership.)
When are the next Tottenham Hotspur matches?
When is the next Tottenham Hotspur match?
Who is on the Manchester United team?
(Note that Siri responds best to official names)
Ask Siri about: Clocks and Alarms
Set an alarm for 7 o'clock.
Change the 7 o'clock alarm to 7.30.
Wake me up in 8 hours' time.
Turn the 7 o'clock alarm off.
Turn all my alarms off.
Delete the 6am alarm.
Cancel all alarms.
Switch off my morning alarms.
Set a timer for five minutes.
Cancel the timer.
What time is it in Berlin?
What's the date this Saturday?
How many days are in this month?
How many days till Christmas?
Ask Siri about: Contacts
Who is Simon Jary?
Find people called John.
Dave Smith is my dad.
Kate Smith is my mum.
Louise Smith is my sister.
Ask Siri about: Phone
Call my dad at home.
Dial 020 555 555.
Ask Siri about: Calendar
Meet with Simon at two o'clock.
Meet with Kate at noon.
Change my three o'clock meeting to two o'clock.
Cancel my two o'clock meeting.
Cancel my meeting with David.
Move my four o'clock meeting to tomorrow.
Create a meeting on...
Meet with Mum and Dad on Christmas day.
Create an event with my parents at Easter.
Ask Siri about: General Knowledge
Note: Siri uses Wolfram Alpha to provide stats and facts. Wolfram Alpha can answer questions related to mathematics, geography, chemistry, words and linguistics, units and measurements, and all kinds of things. Here is a good list of the types of information you'll find on Wolfram Alpha, which will also work in Siri. Interestingly the American version of Siri has an "Ask Wolfram" feature where you can specifically tell Siri that you're after Wolfram information, this doesn't seem to work in the UK yet.
How many calories in a banana?
Calculate 20 multiplied by 13.
What are the properties of gold?
How may people live in Japan?
How far is Mars from Venus?
This is a pretty comprehensive list of things you can do in the UK so far, we may have missed the odd thing but we'll add to this list and go. If you've found any useful things that Siri can do that we've overlooked please let us know on Twitter or add it to the comments.