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New in Siri

Siri is an evolving system. Apple continues to add new and exciting technologies to Siri, and it rolls them out over time. For example, during its first two years, Siri’s voice was rather slow and robotic sounding. With the release of iOS 7, Apple provided more realistic-sounding voices speaking at a much faster rate. This fluidity enhances your understanding of Siri’s responses.

Siri is now faster at returning responses, particularly on Wi-Fi or fast mobile networks. It is now adept at working with more sources of information to get those answers, by adding Bing, Wikipedia, and even Twitter to its list of sources. Many of its responses now appear inline with your questions. Previously, Siri launched other applications like Safari to display answers. Keeping the answers within Siri’s interface allows you to view those responses much faster, in a clean inline presentation.

Apple launched iTunes Radio—a streaming Internet radio service—in the Music app with iOS7. At the same time, it updated Siri to provide a way to control iTunes Radio with your voice. Tell Siri to “Play iTunes Radio” or “Play my Led Zeppelin station,” and you’ll soon be rockin’ to the radio. Don’t like one of the station choices? Just say “Don’t play this song again,” and you’ll be saved from hearing Bohemian Rhapsody for the seventh time that day. (If you ask Siri to “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?” at this time, it mostly returns YouTube videos.)

On an iPhone, Siri can now return calls or play your voicemail. Ask “Do I have any missed calls?” to retrieve a spoken summary of how many calls you missed, at what time, and from what contacts. To listen to your voicemail, ask “Do I have any new voicemail?” Siri produces a spoken list of those items. Ask Siri to play a specific voicemail back to you; say, for example, “Play the voicemail from Trina.”

Voicemail isn’t the only form of communication that Siri now handles. Previously, you could just send emails; now asking Siri to “Check email” lets you hear what has come into your inbox lately. Have that email read to you by asking “Read my latest email,” and when Siri is done, it will ask “Do you want to reply?”

As Figure 1.19 shows, Siri is also getting better at pronouncing names. When Siri mispronounces a name in your contact list, say “That’s not how you pronounce her name” (or something similar). Siri will thank you and then ask how you pronounce the name. After listening to you, Siri presents you with a list of possible pronunciations. Tap each option to listen to it and then select the pronunciation that is closest to correct.

Figure 1-19

Figure 1-19 When Siri mispronounces the name of a contact, you can now teach it the correct pronunciation.

Many of us receive our news of what’s going on in the world through Twitter instead of traditional sources, so it’s not surprising that Siri now keeps an eye on Twitter trends. Just ask “What’s happening on Twitter?” and Siri shows you what is currently trending (see Figure 1.20).

Figure 1-20

Figure 1-20 Siri keeps an eye on what’s trending on Twitter.

Ask Siri “What are people saying about [a topic or a person]?” to see what kind of tweets are being sent out on a topic or about a celebrity. Want to track what a friend or coworker is saying on Twitter? For example, “What’s Mike T. Rose saying?” produced the list of tweets shown in Figure 1.21.

Figure 1-21

Figure 1-21 Siri can produce a list of recent tweets from any of your friends.

Twitter isn’t the only one to have made friends with Siri; Facebook is now just a conversation away as well. At this time, it’s only possible to use Siri to post on your wall. For example, “Write on my wall just saw an amazing Denver Broncos game and they won 45 to 21” gets the word out to your Facebook pals at the speed of light.

Siri helps you connect with your friends, coworkers, and loved ones as well through new integration with FaceTime, Apple’s video calling app. Just say something like “Make a FaceTime call to Susan” or even “FaceTime Susan,” and before you know it, you’re chatting face-to-face.

Apple has given some of Siri’s old tricks a new spin. Siri has always used Yelp ratings to help determine whether a given restaurant is good or bad; now it can even show you individual reviews for a place. Likewise, asking for movie reviews brings up a list of reviews from online movie source Rotten Tomatoes.

One surprisingly useful new feature is the ability to change or check the settings of your iOS device. There are so many options available that we cover them separately in Chapter 2, “Controlling Your Device with Siri.”

Living with Siri’s Limitations

Although Siri is now a mature product, you can still expect that the voice-interpretation system will be subject to mistakes. After all, even humans misunderstand things all the time. With the best of intentions and the best of interpretations, Siri will never be able to provide 100% accuracy.

Sometimes the mistakes are laughably funny, but other times you may become frustrated. Rather than get mad, just work within the limitations and use Siri more often instead of less. Siri used to have a really hard time differentiating between Pachelbel (as in the famous canon) and Taco Bell. It was pretty hilarious. These days, Apple has updated the service to better distinguish between the two—and many other similar-sounding pairs.

The more you use Siri, the better it understands you. Over time, Siri learns your regional accent and characterizes your voice into a specific dialect. This helps it improve its interpretation over time. What’s more, Siri uses information from your device, including your contacts, your music, your calendar, and your reminders, to better match what you’re saying to what you mean.

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