How to get the most out of Apple’s Siri on your iPhone or iPad

For a feature that has so many uses across all of iOS, it is amazing how many people have never used Siri before. A survey taken in the second half of last year found that as many as 84 percent of users polled were not using Siri following the launch of iOS 7.

That means that there are still quite a few individuals that for some strange reason find it awkward speaking into their cell phones. What may make the remaining device owners more comfortable trying out Siri is knowing that you can use Siri with a set of headphones that include a microphone and even Bluetooth headsets.

The following will help those that have not used Siri before get started, and show off some of the many situations where Siri can be used on iOS for those among us that are using it.

Teaching Siri

Teaching Siri

What to call you – Siri can be configured under the General settings on your iOS device. One of the first things you set up on your device is which record in your contacts list belongs to your identity information. Siri uses this information to know who you are. Using the nickname feature of your contact information, you can tell Siri what you prefer to be called. It is of course much easier to just tell Siri “Siri, call me ‘your majesty.'”

Correct pronunciations – Siri does not always get things right when it comes to the pronunciation of certain names. But that’s ok, you can always teach Siri how best to enunciate each name. All you need to do is simply tell Siri to “Pronounce Geoffrey Goetz” and you will be guided through a series of tuning settings that will help get the pronunciation just right. This is much better than trying to manually enter a phonetic spelling of a name in the nickname field of your contacts.

Your family tree – Your contacts list is something that Siri can master. The more information you have in your contact list the more Siri will know about you and your family. In contacts you can add several different relationships by editing your contact information and adding a new “Related Name.” The label specifies the relationship between the two contacts; mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child, friend. You can even enter a custom label of your choosing. When used in conjunction with Find My Friends, it makes searching for your contacts by your association to them much easier. “Siri, where is my son (or daughter)?”

Working with Text

Working with Text

Take dictation – Using Siri to perform speech-to-text translations is not limited to the questions you can ask Siri. You can also tap the microphone button on the keyboard to awaken Siri and speak the text you would like Siri to type for you. Sometimes saying what you are thinking can help you refine your thoughts more clearly, and allows you to avoid committing to paper many of the things in life you probably shouldn’t.

Read selected text – There are many hidden gems inside of the iOS Accessibility settings that almost everyone can take advantage of. One such setting is turning on the text-to-speech abilities of Siri. Hidden under General, Accessibility, Speak Selection, you can change the voice, speaking rate, and even have the words highlighted as they are spoken. This will add an additional selectable item above the text when you select it named “Speak.” Simply select a section of text as if you wanted to copy it and tap on the “Speak” option to have Siri read back to you the text that you have selected. Unfortunately this does not work on books in your Kindle library. To do that you will have to turn on Siri’s Voice Over feature.

Reading ebooks – Siri’s Voice Over setting can turn virtually any ebook into an audiobook. To make it easier to switch Voice Over on and off, you can configure the Accessibility Shortcut feature located at the bottom of the settings for Accessibility. With it you can quickly use a triple-click of the Home button to turn Voice Over on and off. Once set, open one of the books in your Library, even using the Kindle app, and triple-click to enable Voice Over. Once activated use a two-finger swipe up to signify that you want Siri to begin reading the book to you. Now Siri is not nearly as nice as some of the winners of this year’s Audie awards for audible books, but it will do in a pinch.

Speak notifications – Another hidden gem in the Accessibility settings is the ability to have Siri speak notifications as they pop up. This particular feature is great to use in conjunction with your car audio system so you don’t feel like you have to take your eyes off the road when a new notification is sent to you. This is accomplished by turning on the Speak Notifications feature that is part of the Voice Over capabilities. Triple-click the home button once your iPhone is paired with your car and Siri will read your notifications as they pop up while you are driving.

Controlling your Device

Controlling your device

Change device settings – This is a great feature when you are on a plane, listening to your favorite music, and you want to switch the airplane mode on. You can speak a command to Siri by pressing and holding down on the pause button on the remote attached to your headphones and instruct Siri to modify the settings without missing a beat. Something as simple as just saying “Turn on Bluetooth” as you get into your car and “Turn on Bluetooth” when you get out. And if there is a setting that you frequently change but don’t like navigating too, just inform Siri that you want to change the setting and the proper configuration screen will instantly appear.

Launch apps – Similar to the spotlight feature in iOS, Siri has the ability to find and quickly launch apps you have installed on your device. By saying something like “Launch Spotify,” Siri will search your list of installed apps and launch the app matching the name you have spoken.

Play iTunes Radio – Of course iTunes is an app, but Siri can take you specifically to iTunes Radio, which is a tab within an app. This feature — launching a specific tab within an app — does not work on all apps like Spotify or Pandora, but is a handy way to instantly play your favorite iTunes radio station with a simple command. You can even get more specific with your music library and ask Siri to play a particular album, song or artist.

Sending and Receiving Messages

Sending and receiving messages

Review missed calls – Placing calls to specific individuals in your contacts list by saying something as simple as “Call Home” is certainly easy enough to do using Siri. But did you know that Siri can also be used to list out your most recently missed calls by saying “Do I have any missed calls” or check your voicemail list by saying “Do I have any new voicemail.” Again, this is a great hands-free feature that you can use in many situations where you are waiting for that important call to come in.

Check email – In a similar manner, Siri also has access to all of your mail: “Do I have any new email?” You can even get more specific by asking “Any new email from Tom today” and Siri will look at any emails that you have received from Tom today. It is even possible to have Siri check the context of the message by asking something like “Show new mail about the contract.”

Tweet someone – Since Siri is integrated more with external services like Twitter, you can use Siri in a similar fashion to messages. Rather than saying “Tell Susie message” you say “Tweet message instead”. You can even specify a hashtag that you want to use in your message or that you want to use your location information in your tweet. Siri can search beyond the bounds of search engines as well: it can search for trending topics on Twitter by asking “What is trending on Twitter” or something more specific like “Find tweets with the hashtag Siri”.