Hey Siri!

The com­plete guide to us­ing Siri

iPad&iPhone user - - FRONT PAGE -

Ev­ery voice com­mand for iPhone or iPad ex­plained

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, 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 adds mu­sic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, “’Hey Siri!” voice ac­ti­va­tion and real-time feed­back of the words Siri thinks you’re say­ing.

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.

It’s 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.

The voice as­sis­tant 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.

It’s 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.

Get started with Siri

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.

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. Here, choose fe­male.

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 hands­free 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.

There are still some gaps. Siri won’t read your emails to you and it’d be great if you could get it to read out whole books and web pages. (There is a work­around, though, which you can find out about here.) And while iOS has the nifty No­ti­fi­ca­tion Cen­tre, which gives you gran­u­lar con­trol over how dif­fer­ent apps no­tify you about what’s go­ing on, there’s no op­tion to read alerts out loud when you’re in hands-free mode. A missed op­por­tu­nity.

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.

Get Siri to help you with daily tasks

If you’re not driv­ing, 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 ‘Hey Siri!’

A new fea­ture added in iOS 8 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.

Per­sonal dic­ta­tion

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), but its per­son­able na­ture. Siri feels a lot less ro­botic than other voice-ac­ti­vated tech­nol­ogy. Even when it 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. 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.

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. (See above im­age)

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 it is.

It 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.


It’s not gen­er­ally known that Siri can 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. Then it will tell you what song it was, and give links to Shazam it­self and a Buy Now for iTunes.


We hope you like Premier League foot­ball. There’s 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.

Gen­eral knowl­edge

Siri uses Wol­fram Al­pha to pro­vide stats and facts. Wol­fram Al­pha can an­swer ques­tions re­lated to math­e­mat­ics, ge­og­ra­phy, chem­istry, words and lin­guis­tics, and all kinds of things.

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