How to launch apps, open files and more with Siri on your Mac

Recently, TouchPad, an app for remotely controlling your Mac (s aapl) from your iOS device, introduced an update that allows you to dictate text through Siri on your device and have it show up on your Mac. You can use this handy little feature in combination with Alfred, a launcher application for OS X, to make it easier to open programs, perform searches and open files on your computer from across the room.

What you’ll need

You’ll need an iPhone 4S with Siri turned on to get started, of course; TouchPad by Edovia from the iOS App Store ($4.99); and Alfred running on your target Mac, which you can pick up for free from You’ll also need to make sure Screen Sharing is enabled on your Mac, which you can set up by going to System Preferences > Sharing and then checking the Screen Sharing box.

How it works and what you can do

Alfred basically allows you to quickly accomplish tasks through typing queries, application and filenames, instead of having to use the mouse to navigate through folders and your Launchpad application manager. With TouchPad, you can dictate text instead of typing it, which, if you’re operating a media Mac from your couch, for example saves you a lot of time and potential for improper entry via your iPhone’s software keyboard.

To get started, make sure Alfred is running (after the first run, it should be configured to launch at Login). Then, using TouchPad on your iPhone 4S, select the target Mac as the server, and use the software keyboard to type “Alt (?) + Space,” which calls Alfred up. Then, tap the microphone icon on your iOS device’s virtual keyboard within TouchPad, and simply say the name of any application you want to find. It should then transfer the text to Alfred, which will show if it found a match, and you can hit “Return” on your iPhone to launch it.

You can dictate any text you like, and options for searching the web will pop up, including Amazon(s amzn), Google(s goog) and Wikipedia by default. In Alfred’s preferences under the Features tab, you can also set up a custom search for any URL of your choosing, such as Facebook for instance.

Under the Features tab, you can set keywords to trigger actions related to certain files. By default, saying “Find xx” will locate files in Finder that match whatever term you use; “Open” followed by a keyword launches the file using its default associated application; and using “in” will find specific instances of a term within a file. Keywords allow you to control system features like shutting down your Mac, restarting or emptying the trash.

Even more possibilities

With the paid Alfred Powerpack for £12 ($18 USD), you can add more features to your Siri-enabled voice commands, including the ability to launch and control iTunes, email a contact or open Address Book, and enter specific URLs that launch automatically in your default browser.

Of course, this is all about Siri basically replacing typing, and you still have to hit the software “Return” key to make the magic happen, but it’s a lot easier than fumbling with VNC or virtual trackpad software when trying to navigate a Mac set up as a media center. If you’ve found other neat ways to use Siri on your Mac, please share them in the comments.