December 2, 2022 at 7:33 p.m.
- Debuting in 2011, Siri was the first digital personal assistant on a smartphone.
- Users can interact with Siri using natural language, with some ability for conversation.
- Siri provides an easy, hands-free way to control your iPhone.
- Apple incorporated Siri into many devices beyond the iPhone, including the iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.
Why Use Siri?
When I first used Siri over a decade ago, I thought it was a joke. Back then, Siri was more of a parlor trick. It could only accomplish simple tasks and was often confused. The robotic voice reminded me that Siri had a long way to go.
For a long time, the iPhone didn’t even have voice dialing. I remember these days vividly. The iPhone’s lack of voice dialing was a glaring flaw; however, the company didn’t fix this until Siri. It was also an accessibility issue, which hampered the visually impaired from using an iPhone.
Today, I feel much different about Siri. Apple’s personal digital assistant has come a long way, offering the ability to control your iPhone, set appointments, text, email, and call contacts, and much more. It’s hard to imagine life without Siri on my iPhone. I issue at least a dozen Siri commands every day.
If you’re wondering why you should use Siri instead of your fingers, it’s easier to use. For example, if I want to set a timer on my iPhone, I have to unlock it, swipe down to show Control Center, tap the Clock icon, tap the Timer tab, set the timer, and activate it. It takes about 20 seconds. Instead, I can say “Hey Siri, set a timer for 30 minutes,” and I accomplish the same thing in half the time.
The best thing about Siri is that you no longer need to unlock your iPhone. Just say (or yell) “Hey, Siri” from across the room, and it’ll hear you.
Another reason to use Siri is to gain familiarity with the future of computing. We’ll likely always have some hand/eye concept of computing, where we look at a screen (or hologram) and use our hands for control. But, more and more, computing is becoming screenless and touchess, relying on one’s voice for control.
I love to push Siri’s boundaries. A lot of the time, I’m disappointed and just get a bunch of web pages. But as Siri improves, I’m impressed with some things the system can accomplish.
The more you use Siri, the better the experience becomes. Siri also seems to learn from you individually. Siri is not just about voice control. Its presence is pervasive throughout iOS, predicting what you will do and offering you things you probably want.
Now that I’ve explained why you should use Siri, let’s look at how. The following are the ten most useful Siri commands. I hope you find them as helpful as I do.
For all of these commands, I’ve prepended “Hey Siri”. Feel free to omit the phrase if you prefer to invoke Siri through the side button or another method. Also, these commands are in no particular order.
Hey Siri, Call For Help
If you need emergency services quickly, simply say “Hey Siri, call for help”. Siri will display a countdown and you have three seconds to cancel the call.
There are numerous variations of this command. You can say “Hey Siri, call 9-1-1”. You can also specify a service, such as police, fire, or ambulance. Of course, it all goes to 911.
I prefer “call for help” because it’s easy to remember and universal. Not every country has 911. It’s a different number in many places. Your iPhone has a better idea of how to call for help in a foreign country. It’s also intelligent. Telling Siri to dial 911 is too instructive. Siri is smarter than that. You can just say, “Hey Siri, call for help,” and Siri will handle the rest.
Hey Siri, Turn on Flashlight
I have recessed lighting in my home, so there’s no light on the nightstand. The light switches are on the other side of the bedroom, away from the bed. Before I mastered this command, I used to trip over things on the way to find the light switch. Turning on the overhead lights was a bit too bright in the wee hours of the morning.
Next to timers, this is my most-used Siri command. I use it before I go to bed and whenever I wake up in the middle of the night.
You can turn off the flashlight with Siri too. Just say, “Hey Siri, turn off flashlight,” and your iPhone’s light will turn off. If you prefer, you can say “Hey Siri, turn off the flashlight.” In the Apple universe, the flashlight app is just called “flashlight,” without the article “the.” Siri will remind you of this every time but also allow you to say it in proper English.
Hey Siri, What’s the Weather Like?
If you’re wondering whether you need a jacket, parka, umbrella, or shorts, Siri has the answer. Apple really improved this feature over the years. It provides current conditions and a forecast for the immediate future. I ask Siri about the weather before getting ready to go out.
There are a few variations for this Siri request. You can ask for the temperature, if it’s going to rain, if it’s windy, or a variety of questions. Siri has evolved to answer just about any conceivable weather query.
Hey Siri, Set a Timer for N Minutes
Cooking is one of the most common uses for a household timer. With Siri, setting a timer for however long you need is easy. If you’re cooking a seven-minute egg, simply say “Hey Siri, set a timer for seven minutes.”
Unlike the Apple Watch, the iPhone only lets you set one timer at a time. If you try to set another, Siri will ask you if you want to replace the current one. Saying “no” will keep the previous timer. If you say “yes” Siri will replace the old timer with the new setting.
You can use Hey Siri with your Apple Watch. If you use a lot of timers, I highly recommend using an Apple Watch with Siri. You can set up to 25 different timers with watchOS.
It makes sense for the Apple Watch to have the best timers, but I wish Apple would add multiple timers to iOS. One workaround is to use alarms. Since users set most timers to the minute and iOS allows numerous alarms, you can substitute alarms for timers on your iPhone if you don’t have an Apple Watch.
Hey Siri, Set My Alarm For [Time]
We just addressed using Siri to set timers, but you can also create and modify alarms using your voice. I don’t typically set the alarm on weekends, but I don’t want to sleep until noon and waste the day. So I play it by ear. If I wake up at 6 a.m. and want more sleep, I’ll assign an alarm for 9 a.m. If I decide on a little more, I’ll set another alarm for 9:30. If I had to fiddle with my iPhone, all of the effort and light stimulation (even with Night Shift) would make it difficult to get back to sleep.
Setting your alarm by voice means you can do this in bed without reaching for your iPhone. If you’re lying in bed, realizing you forgot to set the alarm, you can do it right there. I do this all the time.
Hey Siri, Turn Off My [Time] Alarm
You can also turn off alarms using your voice. I often do this to get a little more sleep. If I have a 6 a.m. alarm set, and I wake up at 5 a.m. realizing that I need more time to recuperate from that 5-mile run, I will often cancel the alarm and set a later one.
The great thing about this feature is that you don’t need to know the time of the alarm. You can just say “Hey Siri, turn off my alarm” and Siri will reply with the time of the alarm. Sometimes I utter this command on the weekend, just in case I set a recurring alarm that I forgot. It prevents me from waking up from some scheduled weekday alarm that I no longer remember.
Hey Siri, What Time is It?
This is another excellent query to ask Siri when you wake up early, wondering if you can sleep more. During the day, I can look at my iPhone, a clock, or my Apple Watch. I no longer own an alarm clock, thanks to two of these devices. When I need to know the time late at night, I always ask Siri.
If you sleep with a partner, turn Siri’s volume down before making all of these early morning requests. First, say “Hey Siri” to invoke the digital assistant. When the Siri animation is on the screen, use the side volume buttons to turn down the sound. You can get it low enough to hear, but it shouldn’t disturb your partner.
You can also ask Siri for the time in other parts of the world. If you’re curious about what time it is in Hong Kong, just ask Siri.
Hey Siri, Turn [Up/Down] the Volume
You’ll notice that there are no tips on playing music with Siri. That’s because I don’t think it’s a good experience. Unless you’re into obvious pop artists, it’s better to let your fingers do the walking. I once asked Siri to play a song by the legendary progressive rock band Gong, and it played something from the “Gone Girl” soundtrack.
But you can use Siri to turn the volume up or down. It comes in handy if you have your hands full or you’re taking a shower. Don’t try it while you’re brushing your teeth. You’ll make a mess.
Hey Siri, Launch [App Name]
This is one of the most essential and valuable Siri commands. It saves you from scanning rows of icons on countless Home screens. You won’t have to pull down the Search screen either.
It’s surprising how little I, and most people, don’t use this feature. I use it on Apple TV a lot because the Siri Remote is a pain to use. They seem to have known that, which is why there’s a Siri button right on the remote.
I should use it on my iPhone more often. You should too. It’s just an easier way to launch an app. I intend to do it more often and in public too. It’s not embarrassing to embrace the future and show others the way.
Hey Siri, How Do I Get to [Destination]
Apple Maps has a confusing and ever-changing interface, but it integrates with the Apple Watch so well I use it. It also converges with Siri in a profound and helpful way. Even a dad would ask Siri for directions on a family road trip without feeling emasculated.
Siri does have its limitations, mainly due to Apple Maps. I find Maps to be remarkably ignorant of routes between the Bay Area and Southern California. This is probably because most of their employees haven’t lived in California for more than three years. Nonetheless, there are other, much better ways of going down south than taking the Pacheco Pass. Nevertheless, Siri always recommends that route and usually won’t offer an alternative.
But I love using my Apple Watch for driving navigation, so I don’t need to hear Siri’s voice. I can enjoy music, an Audible audiobook, or conversation without interruption. I mute Apple Maps, and my Apple Watch gives me haptic feedback when I need to do something. It’s the best driving experience ever. Sometimes it’s good not to hear Siri, but you know “she’s” always there to help.
Thousands of Siri Commands
There are thousands of Siri Commands but a lot of dead ends. Siri has its limitations, but is overcoming them every day. Just now, I tried to shut down my iPhone with Siri, and it works. A few years ago, that wasn’t possible. Siri is getting much better with voice control over the iPhone as a device.
Siri is deficient with informational queries. All too often, Apple’s digital assistant sends users to the web. Having used Google Assistant on my Android phone, I have to admit, its better with answering questions, but not so good at operating the device. This is with a OnePlus phone, so perhaps a Pixel offers a better experience in this regard.
Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on digital assistants, predictive computing, and artificial intelligence. Google is also excellent with these capabilities. In many areas, Google’s assistant outshines Siri.
Siri is now as essential to the iPhone as a charger. I couldn’t imagine life without Siri. From early morning until I hit the rack, Siri is a useful addition to my life. I look forward to new capabilities coming with future iOS and iPhone releases.