Despite our dependence on mobile devices, tech giants such as Microsoft and Google now boast that we’ve moved from a “Mobile First” world to an “Artificial Intelligence First” world. Previously, all we heard about was devices and apps. Now the big talk centers on the cloud, services and intelligent assistants. That includes Siri, the popular AI-powered virtual assistant residing on all Apple devices. We explain how to use Siri to get the most out of Apple’s assistant.
For starters, our guide is based on iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave. Note that because Apple provides various means of accessing Siri across its devices (including the Apple HomePod), we’ve included the full list. For example, the iPhone X doesn’t have a Home button but instead enables you to access Siri via the Side button on the right. Meanwhile, the latest iPod Touch sports the vanilla Home button while the second-generation iPad Pro has the built-in touch sensor. That said, you’ll see variations across devices.
Also keep in mind that Siri requires a connection to the internet. That’s because the assistant needs a connection to Apple’s cloud even if you’re asking Siri to load local content. If it doesn’t have access, you’ll see/hear messages that “I’m having trouble connecting to the network” or something similar. That requirement may eventually change, but currently Siri’s thought process resides on Apple’s servers to translate your speech and determine the action needed to fulfill your request.
Now let’s get started with our guide on how to use Siri!
How to activate Siri
To actually use Siri, here are the methods for every Apple device:
- Simply say “Hey Siri.” (Untethered for 6s or newer)
- Press and release the Home or Side button.
- Press and hold the Home or Side button for longer requests.
- Simply say “Hey Siri.” (Untethered for iPad Pro or newer, iPad 5th Gen or newer)
- Press and release the Home button.
- Press and hold the Home button for longer requests.
- Simply say “Hey Siri.” (Tethered only)
- Press and release the Home button.
- Press and hold the Home button for longer requests.
- Simply say “Hey Siri” after tapping the screen.
- Raise the watch to your face. (Series 3 or newer)
- Press and hold the Digital Crown. (Keep pressing for longer requests)
- Simply say “Hey Siri.” (15-inch MacBook Pro 2018, 13-inch MacBook Pro 2018 with 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, iMac Pro)
- Press the Siri Icon. (MacBook Pros with Touch Bar)
- Click the Siri icon on the menu bar or Dock. (MacOS Sierra or newer)
- Press and hold the Command Key and Space Bar.
- Hold down the Siri button on the remote.
- Simply say “Hey Siri.”
- Press the top. (Hold for longer requests)
- Simply say “Hey Siri.”
- Hold down the voice-command button on the steering wheel if compatible.
AirPods and headsets
- Double-tap the outside of either AirPod.
- Hold down the center button or call button on third-party headsets.
If you haven’t already enabled Siri when you received and set up your device, you can find the settings for Apple’s virtual assistant here:
Settings > Siri & Search
After navigating to this area, you will see three toggles, depending on the Apple device. This is what you’ll see on the iPhone X and the latest iPod Touch:
Here is the second-generation iPad Pro:
Note that for iPhones older than the 6s, all iPod Touch models, older iPads and Macs, the “Hey Siri” listen feature only works when they’re plugged into a wall outlet (aka tethered). That’s mostly to prevent Siri from draining the battery while she/he lurks in the background, silently waiting for your command.
Obviously, you can mix-match these settings, depending on your needs. The hands-off verbal command is definitely useful but can be problematic if you have more than one active Apple device in the listening area. For instance, you may want Siri to set a timer on your Apple Watch, but your iPhone picks up on the command. In this case, you have two Siri instances obediently awaiting instructions. This fix would require you to disable the “Hey Siri” voice activation on your phone and enable the Side/Home button option.
Change Siri’s voice and language
Apple’s devices ship with the American female voice by default here in the States, but you can switch over to a male voice. Even more, either gender can have an Australian, British, Irish or South African accent. Go back and you can set the preferred language although don’t expect to address Siri in English and get a response in Japanese (although that would be fun).
- Change Siri’s voice: Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice
- Change Siri’s language: Settings > Siri & Search > Language
Change how Siri provides feedback
Siri’s voice feedback is set to “Always On” by default, meaning Siri will provide voice feedback whether you use the Home/Side button or speak the “Hey Siri” command. But there are two other options to control when Siri provides verbal feedback if you’re not keen with the “always on” aspect:
Control with Ring Switch: This really only applies to the Ring Switch and Home/Side Button. If you turn the Ring Switch to mute and press the Home/Side Button to activate Siri, the assistant won’t respond with a voice. But if the Ring Switch remains in mute mode and you say “Hey Siri,” you’ll receive voice feedback. You’ll also get voice feedback through headphones, CarPlay and Bluetooth devices.
Hands-Free Only: This option is similar to the Control with Ring Switch option, only you’re not required to move the Ring Switch to silent mode.
Siri and the Shortcuts
The next section regarding Siri deals with suggestions. Apple’s assistant runs quietly in the background to learn your everyday tasks and be more helpful throughout the day. Thus, when you perform a search, Siri will suggest options that tie into your activities. If there are specific apps you open each day, Siri will suggest apps that will be just as useful. That said, you have three toggles you can switch on and off:
- Suggestions in Search
- Suggestions in Look Up
- Suggestions on Lock Screen
These suggestions tie into the suggested shortcuts you’ll see at the top of the Siri & Search panel. For instance, if you set a timer for 20 minutes every day, you will see a suggested shortcut. Simply touch the “+” icon and then tap the big red button to create a customized phrase. In this case, we said “reading time” and saved the command. The next time we say “Hey Siri,” it will be followed by the “reading time” phrase. You can even create a shortcut that will navigate you home (“go home”), create a blank email to a specific contact, send a static loving message to your spouse and more.
With the release of iOS 12 arrives Apple’s first-party Shortcuts app. This stacks a huge plethora of shortcut options on top of what Apple provided in its latest operating system, extending shortcuts out to third-party applications and services. However, Apple’s Siri-related suggestions include taking a photo with just your voice (although just tapping the camera icon is quicker), turn on Do Not Disturb until you leave your current position and more.
That said, Siri can be tied into apps and services to provide suggestions related to shortcuts, search, “look up” and the keyboard. The final portion of the Siri & Search section gives you control over Siri’s tie to each app, allowing you to toggle on and off the following:
- Search, Suggestions and Shortcuts
- Allow on Lock Screen
Now we’ve come to the meat of our guide on how to use Siri: What exactly can you do with Apple’s assistant? Just ask and Siri will pull up a long list of action-based commands as shown above. Because Siri ties into everything on your Apple device and third-party services, what she/he can’t do is the better question. Here is a load of sample commands:
- Call Dominos.
- FaceTime Chuck.
- Tell Mark I’m on the way.
- Play Pokémon Go.
- Will we see rain this week?
- Scan a QR code.
- Navigate me home.
- Play Duran Duran’s album Big Thing.
- Remind me to get milk.
- Where is Nicholas?
- Turn on Bluetooth.
- Tell me a joke!
- Send $10 to John using PayPal.
- Show my Lowe’s card.
- Show me Michael’s hurricane Florence pictures on Facebook.
- Turn on the lights.
- I have a doctor appointment on Friday at 3pm.
- Show my pictures from Washington D.C.
All in all, Siri covers more than 30 categories spanning phone, FaceTime, stocks, sports, Apple Pay, restaurants, movies and TV shows, email, the weather, reminders, notes, settings, contacts, questions and answers, passwords, Facebook, WhatsApp and loads more. You can also search the App Store for compatible solutions that work with Siri such as Pinterest, Uber, LinkedIn, ZOOM, Runtastic and many others.
Rather than telling Siri to text or call individuals by name, you can assign relationships. To do this, go into your Contacts and select the individual you want to modify. Now perform the following:
- Tap on the Edit link in the top right corner.
- Scroll down to Add related name. Tap on the green “+” icon.
- Choose the relationship from a list of generic tags, or create your own, such as wife or husband.
- Next to the selected label, choose the individual’s name on your Contacts list.
Alternatively, you can verbally assign relationship labels. If you say “text my son” and Siri doesn’t associate “son” with a contact, she/he will ask for his first and last name. Once you provide the requested information, she/he will ask if the information is correct and then save that label in your contacts. Siri will then create a text bubble for your dictated message.
The problem here is when you have multiple children. The trigger term resides after “my” in your command so you’ll need to be creative with your terms. The process is strange in that you must go into the contact, create the new term and set the related name. Then when you say “text my boy,” Siri requires you to set the name verbally… but Siri now associates the term “boy” with the contact.
Say it correctly!
Siri isn’t perfect technology, and she/he may not always get your requests correct. When you ask Siri to text a contact, the assistant will always need verification before sending the message. If it’s not correct, you can say “no” when prompted to send and alter the message by tapping on the text balloon. To edit verbally, you must have dictation enabled. To do so, complete the following:
- Tap on Settings.
- Navigate to General.
- Navigate to Keyboard.
- Toggle on the Enable Dictation.
A microphone icon will appear next to the spacebar on the virtual keyboard. Note that if you’re using CarPlay, you will have an option to edit verbally as many times necessary before delivering the message to your contact.
If Siri doesn’t vocalize names correctly, you can fix that too. You have two avenues to set Siri straight. First you can do so verbally:
- “Hey Siri, pronounce my name.”
- When prompted, say your first name, and then choose from a list of samples for the right pronunciation.
- Repeat for your last name.
Fixing the names of others is a bit more complex:
- “Hey Siri, show Mary Jane’s info.”
- Siri will pull up the contact’s info card.
- “Pronounce her name.”
- When prompted, say her first name, and then choose from a list of samples for the right pronunciation.
- Repeat for the last name.
An alternative to this method is to edit a contact’s info and add a special field: Phonetic or pronunciation. The former allows you to spell the name as it sounds, not the proper spelling, while pronunciation breaks the name down by syllables. To do this, perform the following:
- Open your contact.
- Tap the Edit link in the top-right corner.
- Scroll down to Add field.
- Choose the field you want to add.
- In the new field, type the phonetic or pronunciation interpretation.
Enable/Disable Siri on the Lock Screen
The Lock Screen is an awesome place to get the information you need at a quick glance without actually unlocking your Apple device. Siri can lurk on this screen as well and will respond to anyone who shouts “Hey Siri.” If your device is protected by a thumb, a face or a passcode, you’ll still need those for full access. If this “casual” access makes you nervous, follow these steps to disable (or re-enable) Siri on your Lock Screen:
- Open Settings.
- Navigate to Face ID & Passcode, Touch ID & Passcode, or just Passcode.
- Type your passcode to access this setting.
- Scroll down to Allow Access When Locked.
- Enable or Disable Siri using the slider.
Finally, Apple provides a few Easter eggs you can learn more about here. These include Siri finishing a song by Queen, reciting lines spoken by Samuel L. Jackson and more.
Other Apple-related features worth checking out: