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10 Tips and Tricks to Make Siri More Useful

A guide to some features that you might not have known about Siri.

I have a love-hate relationship with Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant for iOS. On the one hand, she’s quite helpful when I need to do things like set reminders and compose text messages. On the other hand, it’s absolutely maddening when she repeatedly makes mistakes or can’t complete a task. So I can understand why people get frustrated and give up on using Siri altogether.

But you shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss her. Voice assistants like Siri (and Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana) can be useful and timesaving tools for getting things done and finding information. You just have to be willing to put in a little time and effort to better understand what Siri does and train her to be a smarter assistant.

To help you, I’ve gathered up some tips and tricks for using Siri. They range from the very basic for beginners to more advanced features that some current users may not know about.

For Apple’s part, the company is continuing to make improvements and add features to Siri. When iOS 8 is released this fall, Siri will gain new capabilities, such as providing visual feedback, so you can see how Siri translates your commands in real time. You’ll also have the ability to launch Siri using just your voice (as long as your iOS device is plugged in for charging, that is). But here’s what you can do with Siri right now.

1. Find out what Siri can do

If you just got an iPhone or haven’t really used Siri, it’s helpful to know what she can and can’t do. To find out, hold down the Home button and say, “What can you do?” Siri will then provide a list of sample questions and commands she understands, such as launching an application or asking for sports scores.

Alternatively, after you’ve activated Siri, you can tap the question mark icon in the lower left-hand corner and get the same results that way.


2. If Siri makes a mistake, tell her

The first couple of times Siri misunderstands your commands, you’ll probably want to scream and drop-kick your iPhone. (Or maybe that’s just me.) But have a little patience and give her a chance to learn from the mistakes.

If Siri misinterprets something, swipe down on the screen to reveal your initial command and then use the “Tap to edit” to correct the statement or question. Not only will she return with new results, she’ll also remember the correction to provide better performance in the future.

3. Teach Siri how to pronounce names and tell her about your relationships


I always thought my last name, “Cha,” was pretty easy to pronounce (it’s just like the dance). But I get a lot of “Chow,” “Che” or in Siri’s case, “Char.” If Siri mangles any of your contacts’ names, you can correct her by saying, “That’s not how you pronounce his/her name.” Siri will then ask you how to pronounce their first and last name and give you three different options to choose from. Once you’ve made your selection, Siri will use that pronunciation from then on.

Along the same lines, you can tell Siri how contacts are related to you, so you can say things like “Call my husband” instead of “Call Ryan Gosling.” To do so, say a command like “Text my boss,” then Siri will ask you, “What is your manager’s name?” Or you can say, “Walt Mossberg is my boss” and Siri will add that relationship to her records.

4. Raise to speak

The most common way to activate Siri is by holding down the Home button for a couple of seconds. But there’s also an option to launch the app by lifting your iPhone up to your ear. This will only occur when you’re not on a phone call. If you prefer this method, go to Settings > Siri and then turn on Raise to Speak.

5. Create location-aware reminders


Siri has become my go-to method for setting up reminders. Rather than opening up the Reminders app and manually entering all the information, I can just dictate it to Siri and she’ll create it for me. But she’s also smart in that she can remind you to do something based on your location.

So for example, you can say something like, “Remind me to pick up the dry cleaning when I leave work.” But in order for this to work, you will need to add the specific addresses — home, work, dry cleaners, and so forth – to your phone’s address book. Also, you’ll need to make sure you have Location Services turned on and that it’s enabled for Reminders. To check, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, or …

6. Launch specific settings

… tell Siri to open that specific setting. Finding the menus and settings to turn specific features on and off can feel like a fruitless search, so make it easy it on yourself and have Siri do it for you, with commands like “Open Mail settings.” Use the same phrasing to launch specific applications.

7. Search your notes and emails


Another timesaving feature of Siri is her ability to search through your emails and notes. If you’re looking for a specific message about a work project, tell Siri, “Find email about Q3 projections,” and she will retrieve any relevant emails, telling you how many related messages there are for that specific subject/sender dating back to the first record.

8. Have Siri read your messages, play voicemail

We all know that playing with your phone while driving is dangerous. If you must check your messages or voicemail, Siri can be a better option than looking down at your screen. Use commands like “Read my latest email” or “Play my voicemail” and she’ll read them aloud, and give you options to dictate a reply or ignore.

9. Find and make restaurant reservations


Oh, crap! You forgot about your wedding anniversary and you need to make dinner reservations ASAP. Siri can help you with that, as she can tap into Yelp and OpenTable to come up with top-rated restaurants and booking information. If you have a type of cuisine in mind, you can say something like, “Find the best French restaurant around,” and Siri will list results based on your location and Yelp ratings. You can also say, “Make reservations for Spruce tonight at 7 pm,” and Siri will tell you what’s available according to OpenTable.

10. Have fun!

There’s a lot more things that Siri can do, so have fun exploring. One of my favorite things to do is to ask her which planes are flying over me at the moment. Need to settle a bet with a friend about who’s the better player, LeBron James or Tim Duncan? Have Siri pull up their stats. She can even solve math problems.

Siri may not be perfect, but with a little effort on your part, she can help save you time and boost your productivity, and maybe even win you a bet.

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