Have you met Siri? If you own a current-generation iOS device, this virtual assistant is waiting for your command. Siri runs on the iPhone (4S or later), iPod touch (fifth generation or later), and iPad (third generation or later).
On iOS, Siri replaces the dance of your fingers on the glass screen of the device with a conversation like the one in Figure 1-1. Siri understands your voice, places what you say in context to the apps that it works with, and even responds with a question if it doesn’t understand. For the first time outside science fiction, we have a way to interface in natural language with a computer.
Figure 1-1. Siri awaits your command.
Siri doesn’t stop there. If you own an OS X Mountain Lion Macintosh computer, you have access to Siri dictation as well. You can speak to dictate emails, create reports with your voice, and more.
In this chapter, you learn how to get started with Siri: how to enable it, launch the service, and try it out. You read about how to speak (slowly and clearly), how to recover from mistakes (Siri lets you edit errors), and how to access the service 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
To ensure that the Siri service has been enabled, navigate to Settings, General, Siri. Here you find a screen of options, as 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 Preferences pane, you can choose a primary language, set when you want the service to speak to you, and enable or disable the Raise to Speak option. Some options vary by iOS device. Only the iPhone supports Raise to Speak. Other devices do not offer proximity sensors.
Switch the primary Siri toggle to On to activate the service. On the iPhone, when the service is disabled, the older iOS VoiceControl feature still enables you to place hands-free calls and request music. Siri is much more powerful than VoiceControl and offers a wider range of voice-directed actions.
Disabling Siri is not a step you take lightly. Doing so removes your information from Apple servers. If you want to reenable Siri later, reestablishing your personal profile might take time (see Figure 1-3).
Figure 1-3. When you disable Siri, you delete information stored on Apple’s servers. Siri has to relearn your personal style if you reenable it in the future.
The other options you find on this settings page include the following:
- Language: Select the language and region you want Siri to use for interpreting your interaction. In its initial release, Siri supported only English (U.S., U.K., and Australia), French, and German. The set of supported languages and regions grew over time as Siri was deployed throughout the world. Siri now speaks Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese, with Apple rolling out more languages and dialects over time. You can ask Siri, “What languages do you speak?” and see them listed.
Voice Feedback: Decide whether you want Siri to respond to you with voice as well as text responses. You can 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 (see Figure 1-4). Lowering the loudness 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) and then adjusting the device’s volume toggles.
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: (iPhone only) When enabled, Siri activates using the iPhone proximity sensor. This feature is not available on iPod touch and iPad units. This is the onboard sensor that detects when your face is near the iPhone screen. By switching this setting to On, 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.
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, email bodies, 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. An entire language of touches is used with VoiceOver, with a challenging learning curve. Consult documentation on Apple’s website for details about using VoiceOver features both in general and with Siri.