Have you met Siri? Siri is Apple’s fabulous hands-free, conversation-based virtual personal assistant. Siri can help manage your life, organize your mobile device, and, as a bonus, provide endless hours of silly fun. If you own a current-generation iOS device, your virtual assistant awaits your command. Siri runs on the iPhone (4S and later), iPod touch (fifth generation and later), iPad (third generation and later), iPad Air, and all versions of the iPad mini.
Siri replaces the dance of your fingers on the glass screen of an iOS device with a conversation like the one shown in Figure 1.1. Siri understands your voice and places what you say in context with the apps that it works with. It even responds with a question if it doesn’t understand. Reality has overtaken science fiction. You can now use spoken natural language to interface with a computer.
Figure 1-1 Siri awaits your command.
Siri doesn’t stop there. Macintosh computers that run OS X Mavericks and Mountain Lion offer Siri dictation as well. You can speak to dictate emails, create reports with your voice, and more.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to get started with Siri: how to enable it, launch the service, and try it out. You’ll read about how to speak (slowly and clearly), how to recover from mistakes (by editing errors), and how to access Siri in a variety of ways. By the time you finish reading this chapter, you’ll feel at ease talking to (instead of at) Siri.
Enabling Siri on iOS
Like many other services on iOS, you can enable or disable Siri as desired. To ensure that the Siri service has been enabled, navigate to Settings, General, Siri or launch Siri and tell it to “Open Siri settings.” You now see the screen of options shown in Figure 1.2. These options let you control how Siri works. Use this screen to adjust the way Siri is set up and responds to you.
Figure 1-2 From the Siri settings page, you choose a primary language, select either a male or female voice, set when you want the service to respond to you, and enable or disable the handy Raise to Speak option. Some options vary by iOS device. For example, only the iPhone supports Raise to Speak, which relies on the iPhone’s built-in proximity sensor. Other devices do not offer proximity sensors, so they cannot provide this option.
Tap the Siri toggle switch to On (green) to activate the Siri service. On the iPhone, when the service is disabled, the older iOS Voice Control feature still enables you to place hands-free calls and request music. Siri is much more powerful than Voice Control, offering a wider range of voice-directed actions.
Disabling Siri is not a step you take lightly. Doing so actually removes your information from Apple servers. You’ll lose all the personalization and customization you have built up over time. You can re-enable Siri later, but reestablishing that personal profile—specifically how Siri learns your accent and speech patterns—will take time (see Figure 1.3).
Figure 1-3 Disabling Siri deletes information stored on Apple’s servers. Siri must relearn your personal style when you re-enable it in the future.
The settings page includes some other options:
- Language: Select the language and region you want Siri to use for interpreting your interaction. In early 2014, Siri speaks Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese with mainland and Taiwan dialects, English (Australian, Canadian, UK, and U.S. dialects), French (Canadian, French, and Swiss dialects), German (German and Swiss dialects), Italian (Italian and Swiss dialects), Japanese, Korean, and Spanish (Mexican, Spanish, and U.S. dialects). Apple is rolling out more languages and dialects over time. You can ask Siri, “What languages do you speak?” to see them listed.
- Voice Gender: In its original release, Siri used a default gender of female in the United States and male in the United Kingdom, with similar gender discrepancies in other countries. Now you can select between male and female in many of the supported languages. Siri cannot change that gender for you. If you ask, it directs you to make the change yourself in the Siri settings page.
- Voice Feedback: Siri can respond to you with voice as well as text responses. Choose to always enable this feature (Always) or to support it only for hands-free operation (Handsfree Only) when used with a headset of some sort.
If you choose Always, remember that Siri uses a volume control system that’s separate from your main iOS device’s voice control (see Figure 1.4). Lowering the volume of your music playback won’t affect Siri and vice versa. If you enable voice feedback and forget to lower the Siri volume, you could encounter embarrassing situations. Imagine being in a meeting and activating the service by accident. You set Siri’s volume by opening the assistant (press and hold the Home button or raise the unit to your ear if you enabled Raise to Speak) and then adjusting the device’s volume toggles on the side of the phone.
Figure 1-4 Siri has its own volume controls. Adjusting the volume when Siri is displayed does not affect normal iOS system volume and vice versa.
- My Info: This sets the default contact for your identity from your personal address book. Choosing a contact lets Siri knows where “home” is, what your name is, and so forth. It also allows Siri to associate relationships with your contacts, such as “my spouse” or “my boss” or “my doctor.” Make sure this option points to the right contact so that when Siri tries to help you, it’s working with the right person.
- Raise to Speak: When this setting is enabled, Siri activates using the iPhone proximity sensor. As the device nears your ear, Siri detects that you’re ready to speak and enters listening mode. Switch this setting to On, and you can start a Siri session by raising the iPhone to your ear. You generally want to leave this option enabled. It offers the simplest and most discrete way to activate Siri from your handset. This feature is not available on iPod touch, iPad, or iPad mini—only on iPhone.
Siri works with VoiceOver, the screen reader built into iOS. VoiceOver offers a way for visually impaired users to listen to their graphical user interface (GUI). VoiceOver converts an application’s visual presentation to an audio description.
VoiceOver can speak any text displayed on your iOS screen, including Siri responses. VoiceOver speech can also interpret as speech certain graphical elements presented by Siri. These include weather forecasts, the text of emails, answers from Wolfram Alpha, and so forth.
You enable VoiceOver in Settings, General, Accessibility, VoiceOver. Be sure to set the Triple-Click Home option to On so that you can enable and disable VoiceOver with a simple shortcut.
When using VoiceOver, you use the iPhone GUI with your fingers and ears rather than with your eyes. VoiceOver uses an entire language of touches, with a challenging learning curve. Consult documentation on Apple’s website for details about using VoiceOver features both in general and with Siri.