There are literally thousands of commands you can issue to Siri, the “intelligent” voice-activated assistant built into Apple’s iOS. I say “intelligent” in quotes because for many people Siri is anything but. Siri can be, in fact, completely useless.
The first couple of times Siri stumbles on a command, or simply times out, you cuss it out and never launch it again. At least, that was my experience. That’s until I wondered whether the problem was actually me, and not Siri. I know this sounds like a bad breakup line, but I’ve been spending some time trying really, really hard to make it work. I’ve been tweaking settings, learning commands and patiently correcting Siri when there was a hiccup.
The results have been pretty good. It's not perfect, but it is a lot better. I found that keeping it simple is the best approach. Nothing too ambitious. Siri can find flights or book restaurants, but I tend to use her for everyday tasks—the productivity stuff, in other words.
And for a lot of it, Siri is simply the best. There is no easier way to set a reminder, add a meeting to your calendar, start calls or send messages. You speak, she does it. For example, after you park your car and feed the meter, try saying “Set a one hour timer.” It’s much, much easier than doing it manually.
A small commitment spent learning how to use Siri can pay off big dividends. Siri has lived up to its promise and truly made me more productive.
If you've dismissed Siri due to frustration, or never even gave it a shot, I have 10 simple tips to help get you started. Try them. Once you work out the kinks and get in the habit of using Siri, you'll wonder how you ever got by without it.
1. Make Siri A Habit
The biggest hurdle was forcing myself to use Siri. Every time she failed, I just gave up and did whatever it was I was going to do manually. However, by forcing myself to launch Siri every time I went to type something, I soon got into the habit.
Instead of opening the Messages app, I now say “text my wife,” and I’m usually done in a fraction of the time this used to take. Next time you start an email or search for a contact, force yourself to use Siri instead. It takes about a week to get into the habit, but it’s worth it.
2. Use Raise to Speak
Most people hold the Home button for two seconds to bring Siri to life, but there’s a better way to use Siri in public. Raise to Speak launches Siri when you lift your iPhone to your ear, and you are "not" making a phone call. Her voice comes out of the earpiece, not the speaker, and you look as though you are making a regular phone call when you speak to her.
If Raise to Speak is off, go to Settings > General > Siri and scroll to the bottom. There you’ll see the “Raise to Speak” button, which you can switch to "on."
3. Set Up Your Contacts
Make sure to tell Siri about all your most important relationships. You can do this manually in Contacts by selecting your own contact information and filling in the slots for “wife,” “daughter,” and so on. A quicker method is to tell Siri directly: "Joe Bob is my brother.” Just make sure the name is already in your contacts. Say “Yes” when Siri asks you to confirm. This is a great and natural way to contact people: “Call my boss” or “text my assistant I’ll be 20 minutes late.” You can even add custom labels like “accountant” or “lawyer.”
4. Add Phonetic Spellings And Nicknames
Siri stumbled over my daughter’s name until I added a phonetic spelling to her Contact card. In Contacts, find the person with the troublesome name. Hit “Edit” and scroll down to the bottom. Hit the button that says "Add New Field” and select "Phonetic First Name" or "Phonetic Last Name," depending on which one Siri can’t recognize. Now when you ask Siri to say or recognize a name, she'll get it right. You can even do this for place names, like favorite restaurants or places with hard-to-recognize names. Palace of “Ver-Sigh,” for example.
Another useful trick is to add nicknames to contacts. Using a nickname to call someone or send a text is a great, natural way to do things. Again, find the contact, hit “Edit” and “Add New Field” and select “Nickname.”
It takes some getting used to, but using Siri to manage your calendar can be a big productivity boost. Adding new events, for example, can be a lot easier with Siri than any other method, including typing on your computer. The main trick is to include as much information as possible in the command. A rookie mistake is to say, “Schedule a meeting for tomorrow,” to which Siri responds with a query about what time? Better to say "Schedule a meeting with Joe Bob tomorrow at 11a.m." If Joe Bob is in your contacts, he will even receive an email invitation.
Siri has quite a lot of smarts. If you make a mistake, you can easily fix things by saying "change the time" or simply “cancel.” If there is ambiguity, Siri will ask questions to clarify the time or location. She is aware of conflicts with events already on your calendar, and can respond intelligently if you say “Cancel the 5 p.m. appointment” or “Reschedule my meeting on Thursday.”
Siri is good for searching your calendar or changing specific events. She understands “What appointments have I got tomorrow?” as well as “Cancel my doctor’s appointment on Friday.”
I use Siri a lot for sending texts, my preferred way to communicate these days. Again, the rookie mistake is to say simple, “Send a text.” If you don’t specify, Siri will prompt you for a name, phone number or email address. Better to say, “Tell Joe Bob I’ll be 20 minutes late,” or “Text my mother that we arrived safely.” The keywords are “Tell” and “Text,” which alerts Siri to send an SMS message. In the car, you can ask Siri to read arriving texts out loud, and then respond: “Reply that I will be there shortly,” all without taking your eyes off the road.
Using Siri for email is a bit more involved than sending SMS texts, but again it’s useful for situations like driving. Siri understands “Check Email” and will respond with a list all of your latest messages. You can respond by saying “Reply to
When using Siri to send an email, the important keywords to use are: “send”, “about” and “say.” This way you can rattle off the recipient, subject line and message body in one go: Send email to
Siri will confirm if the message is ready to go, and you simply respond “Yes” or tap the “Send” command on screen.
It can be quite a mouthful, but it is considerably faster than the laborious question and answer method of using Siri with a standard “Send email” command.
8. Location-Aware Reminders
To-do lists never work for me because I always forget to check them. Not so with a reminder that pops up at a particular location. It’s dead easy to tell Siri: “Remind me to get milk when I leave.” And when I step out of the door, the reminder pops up. There’s no need to tell Siri my location thanks to GPS.
There are lots of situations you can use location-aware reminders: “Remind me to feed the fish when I get home,” or “Remind me to say happy birthday to my boss when I get to work.”
I find it useful for errands: “Get coffee at Martha Brothers” (my local coffee shop) or “Drop clothes at Locals Dry Cleaners.” Then when I pass the dry cleaners on the way home, a reminder pops up. Of course, you have to put the addresses of the coffee shop and dry cleaners into your contacts and turn on Location Services in Settings > Privacy Location Services.
To add addresses to your contact book, say “Find Walgreens,” then hit the red pin in the map and select the “Create New Contact” button to add it to your contacts.
9. Use The “Information” Button
When Siri is invoked, there’s a small “i” icon (for “Information”) in the bottom left corner of the screen. It’s very easy to overlook, but tap it and you’ll discover a big and useful library of tips for using Siri. They are arranged by App or task: Phone, Messages, Calendar, Restaurants, Movies, Notes and Settings. It’s well worth spending some quality time here, familiarizing yourself with features like finding the easiest way to get a trivia answer—simply by saying, “Google the war of 1812.”
10. Fix Mistakes And Keep Going
Perseverance is one of the keys to getting Siri to work over the long haul. Apple claims that Siri gets better the more you use her. She does this by listening for your dialect or accent, and categorizing you against all the accents she understands. The more people use it, the more accents she understands and the better she is able to understand you, the individual. Or so Apple claims.
On a personal level, you can help her better understand commands by manually correcting mistakes. After issuing a command, check the speech box showing what you said. Siri frequently underlines in blue any words she misheard or can’t understand. Hit the underlined word and a dialogue pops up with some alternatives, which are often correct. I found that Siri often stumbles on the same commands and that training her to recognize correct words pays off. Of course, it’s inconvenient, but her transcription errors are far more infrequent after a little training.
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Photos: Federated Media, Apple