Sixteen things you should know how to do with Siri

Dan Miller
28 April, 2014
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Siri is, of course, a marvel of modern technology. But it’s also one of those things that a lot of us don’t use as much as we could or should. So a couple of Macworld editors, particularly senior editor Dan Frakes, put together the following list of 16 things we think everybody should know how to do using Siri.

1. Search for stuff on the web. Siri can perform web searches (using Google, Bing or Yahoo), get answers to more specialised questions using Wolfram Alpha (“What’s the square root of pi?”), find reviews of businesses (using Yelp), search Wikipedia, and so on. Just phrase your question in natural language, and then tap a search result to go to the source site (or app) for more information.

2. Control system settings. Siri’s become a bit smarter across the board in iOS 7. One of its major improvements is in its ability to control your device’s settings. You can ask Siri to turn Bluetooth on or off, open a specific Settings pane and even turn on Airplane Mode (though Apple’s voice assistant gets a little snarky if you ask for that last one). If you need to change a setting Siri doesn’t directly support, and you can’t quite remember how to get to that settings screen, you can also open many top-level settings groups, and some second-level screens, in the Settings app – for example, “Open Notification Center settings”. This feature doesn’t work for every section of the Settings app – especially those related to security – but it’s worth trying when you need to quickly tweak the way your device works.

3. Teach Siri who’s who. If you’ve been saying the full name of your spouse, sibling, other family member or boss, there’s a better way: Say “your spouse’s name is my spouse” and Siri will remember that designation in the future. You can then just say “Text my spouse” and Siri will know exactly whom to text. You can also add relationships by editing your own record in the Contacts apps: tap Add Related Name, then choose a relationship and a corresponding contact.

4. Send a text or email. One of the most convenient tasks Siri can perform is creating and sending text and email messages. Say, “Send my wife an email” or “Text my wife,” and Siri will create a new message and ask you what you want the message to say. Dictate your message, Siri shows you a preview (“Read my message” tells Siri to read it back to you), and then prompts you to send the message. Say, “Send,” and it’s sent.

You can make your Siri interactions more efficient by including as much info as possible in the initial command. For example, instead of saying, “Text my wife,” waiting for Siri to ask you what you want your text message to say, and then dictating, “We need to pick up the kids from the party at 4pm,” just say “Text my wife that we need to pick up the kids from the party at 4pm.” (You can also use this trick for calendar events and reminders.)

5. Create a calendar event. Siri can add events to your calendar thanks to commands such as “Make an event for 10am Friday called Training.” But you can get a lot more specific. Add “to calendar name” to choose a specific calendar; say “with contact name and Siri will add that person as an attendee – and will even send the person an invitation if they’re in your Contacts list.

You can also edit events: “Move my Friday 10am Training event to 1pm” moves the event to the afternoon; “Add Serenity Caldwell to Monday’s 12:30 meeting” adds her as an attendee. (Many people don’t realise Siri can also check your calendar. Say “When’s my meeting with Dan Moren?” and Siri will tell you. Say “Show me Tuesday” and Siri shows you your scheduled events for that day.)

6. Set a timer. The built-in Clock app offers useful timer feature, but Siri makes it much more convenient. Say, “Set a timer for 10 minutes,” and Siri creates (and starts) a new 10-minute timer in the Clock app – you never even have to open the app.

7. Set an alarm. Similarly, “Set an alarm for 7am” creates a new alarm-clock alarm for 7am.

8. Get directions. You can have Siri get you directions to a destination, using iOS’s own Maps app, by saying, for example, “Show me how to get to San Jose.” But Apple’s Maps app doesn’t currently support transit or walking directions, or you may prefer a different mapping app. Add “via transit” to the end of your command, and Siri will display a list of installed and App Store third-party routing apps. Tap one – such as the Google Maps app – and Siri will launch that app, preconfigured with your destination. (You don’t even need to choose a transit app, which makes this a great tip for using Siri with third-party navigation apps, such as Navigon.)

9. Create and edit notes. Notes is a forgotten app on many iOS devices, but Siri makes it a lot more useful, if not any less simplistic. Say, “Make a note” or “Note that” and you can quickly dictate a new note. Alternatively, say, “Make a note called note name” and you can then add text to that note by saying “Add text”. You can add to a note later by saying, “Add text to note name.”

10. Create reminders. You may know that you can use Siri to schedule reminders by saying something like, “Remind me to call Dan at 10:30am tomorrow.” But Siri can do a lot more than that. For example, Siri can do reminder maths. “Remind me to cancel my trial subscription in 14 days.” You can also have Siri configure geofenced (location-based) reminders: “Remind me to call the Y when I get home.” (You can also say “Show me my reminders” at any time to quickly view your tasks.)

11. Find a restaurant. If you use Yelp or another app to find nearby restaurants, give Siri a try instead. “Are there any good delis nearby?” shows you a list, along with prices, location, and Yelp ratings. (You can search by location, cuisine, price and indoor/outdoor seating – or any combination of features.) Tap a listing to get detailed information. And if you’ve ever used Open Table to make reservations, you’ll be thrilled to know that you can say “Find me a table for four for dinner tonight” to see nearby restaurants with openings; tap one to make the reservation. You can even check for reservations at a specific restaurant: “Book me a table for two at 7pm at The Romantic Candle.”

12. Launch apps. Siri can launch apps directly. Just say “Open app name” and Siri will open that app – assuming there’s only one with that name. Note that if your phone is locked, Siri will prompt you to unlock it before the app can be opened.

13. Control iTunes. You can of course launch the Music app using Siri, but why bother when Siri can start playback for you? Say, “Play playlist Road Trip,” and Siri begins playback of the playlist called Road Trip.” Other things you can tell Siri to play include artist names, album names and track names; it also works with iTunes Radio.

14. Interact with social media. If your hands are occupied, Siri can post to Twitter or Facebook for you. For example, say, “Tweet that the scenery in Napa is beautiful,” or “Post to Facebook that the weather in Seattle is surprisingly sunny today,” and Siri does the rest. But did you know you can also search Twitter? Say “What are people saying on Twitter about the Giants?” and Siri will show you some tweets about the topic. Similarly, say “What’s Dan Moren saying?” and Siri shows you that person’s most recent 10 messages.

15. Follow sports. You don’t need to unlock your phone and open your favourite sports news app to get the latest scores. Just say “What’s the score of the Bears game?” and Siri tells you. But Siri actually knows a lot more about sports than that. For example, you can say things like, “Who’s in first place in the National League West?” “What’s Brandon Belt’s batting average?” or “Who do the Bulls play next?” to get detailed information about teams, players and schedules.

16. Find out about movies. Siri also knows movies. You may know that you can ask Siri about movie showtimes, but try asking about particular movies and actors: “Is the new Captain America movie any good?” “What time is Grand Budapest Hotel showing?” “What movies had both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?” Siri shows you the results, and you can tap any movie or rating to get more info – you can even view trailers for current movies. Tap a theatre to view the theatre’s location in the Maps app.

by Dan Miller, Macworld


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