Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

Everything you need to know about Apple's assistant

Siri missing manual
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Siri arguably kicked off the wave modern voice assistants. Though Apple's personal voice bot has been overshadowed by Amazon's Alexa and Google' Assistant in recent years, it's still live and very much kicking.

Siri has the advantage of being on the vast majority of Apple devices. While its natural habitat is your iPhone, it's also available on iPads, MacBooks, Macs, Apple TVs, and - more recently - the HomePod.

Apple's voice assistant can actually help you do a lot, and while it wasn't too useful in the beginning the Cupertino company has made some major moves in the past couple years to make Siri much more useful. Not only can it control your smart home and be your music DJ, but it can do things like call you an Uber.

Read this: The best HomeKit compatible devices

Siri is set to get even more powerful with new features like Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12. However, Apple still has some work to do. Siri has let rivals overtake it, and a lot of that has to do with Apple's stance on privacy.

Still, Siri is set to be a cornerstone of Apple's smart home strategy moving forward. In this Missing Manual, we'll take you through everything you need to know about Siri - from its abilities to the devices to how it works in your smart home.

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

What Siri can do

It might have been a minute since you've used Siri, but Apple has been continually updating its digital assistant with new features.

You can expect it to do all of the basics, firstly. You can command Siri to open apps and even take a selfie with your phone. You can set timers, create reminders, check your calendar, call or FaceTime people and send messages. Naturally, Siri can also tell you the weather or give you restaurant recommendations, movie times and even answer your queries for you.

You can ask things like where the sports stadium is, how many touchdowns Tom Brady threw last year, whether there are any 3D movies playing in your area, or to add Drake's new album to your library.

Siri can also understand your requests in some natural ways. So if you tell Siri that you're running low on gas while driving, it'll direct you to a gas station closest to you. If you tell Siri to play a song you'd like, it'll use its Genius powers to find a song it'll think you like.

You can even do things like pay people with Apple Pay, make reservations through Open Table, call an Uber or Lyft, translate languages and more. In the smart home, Siri can be used to control your devices and even initiate scenes. So if you say "good night" Siri will turn off all your lights, turn your thermostat to your sleeping level and maybe even play you a good night podcast if that's what you're into.

Siri is set to get even more powerful with iOS 12 thanks to Siri Shortcuts. These are essentially shortcuts that let Siri do things with your own custom commands. So if you have a Tile device and say, "Hey Siri, I lost my keys" then Siri will activate the Tile for you.

There's also a Shortcuts app bundled with iOS 12, arriving later this year, that'll let you create all of these shortcuts. You can even bundle in multiple actions, similar to Alexa's Routines. So if you say "Hey Siri, I'm heading home" Siri can turn on your favorite podcast, turn on navigation home, and then send a text to your significant other to let them know you're on the way.

Siri is also quite good at suggestions. It can learn what you do and then suggest actions. You may have seen this a little bit in the Siri watch face on Apple Watch, or in Siri App Suggestions on iPhone. So if Siri sees that you're headed to a meeting, it can recommend that you send a text to let them know you could be late if it sees that there's traffic on the way.

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

What Siri can't do

Siri isn't necessarily a bad digital assistant, but it's also not as useful as both Google Assistant and Alexa. In recent months, both Google and Amazon have worked to make their assistants more intelligent, so why is Siri behind?

A lot of this intelligence relies on context. It's the little things, like being able to ask follow-up questions and have them answered without having to go through "Hey Siri" all over again.

These small things make using Siri a little more frustrating than Alexa and Google Assistant, but the big thing that makes Siri less useful than its contemporaries is that developers can't fully tap into it.

If you ask Siri to play something on Spotify, it will tell you that it can't. Apple has prioritized developing Siri features that it can fully control. While SiriKit launched back in 2016, an effort to help developers tap into Siri, it has not yet resulted in an explosion of compatible apps. Or, at the very least, apps that people use (like Spotify).

Another major issue with Siri is that its natural language understanding and responses just aren't as sophisticated as Google Assistant or Alexa. We've all had that moment where we ask Siri something, only to have Siri completely misunderstand what we're saying. Apple has made steps to help fix this, like the ability to edit your queries or train how Siri pronounces your name, but there's a bigger issue at play.

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

Siri and privacy

There's one massive difference in the way Siri works compared to Alexa and Google Assistant. While Alexa and Google Assistant leverage the power of Amazon and Google's cloud services, Siri lives entirely on your device of choice.

When you speak to Siri, your device's processor takes that information and computes it and spits out a response. That doesn't mean that Apple never sends any queries up to a server, it does. When it does, it strips your queries of anything that could identify you in an effort to better bolster voice recognition.

It sends these queries with unique identifiers tied to your device, and it scrubs things like your name and also inserts some white noise for good measure to make sure that no one could use your data to identify you. However, it's important to make clear that your personal interactions with Siri are completely handled on your device - not in the cloud.

This is unlike how Amazon and Google handle privacy with Alexa and Google Assistant. When you talk to those assistants, they record clips of your interactions and send that up to their servers for processing. Amazon and Google are essentially feeding straight personal data into their big AI machine to improve it at a fast rate.

Apple sends much less personal information, which makes it difficult for the company to improve many of Siri's abilities at the same pace as Amazon and Google. Even worse, Apple started later. For a while, Apple leaned on Nuance Communications to take care of Siri's speech recognition. Only recently, with iOS 11, did Apple start using its own technology for voice recognition.

Apple's privacy policy is certainly a good thing that has helped both consumers keep data more private and keep the company away from the controversy that has ensnared Facebook and Google, but it also means that Siri will have a tough time catching up quickly to its rivals.

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

Siri: The smart home devices

Everyone knows that Siri is on pretty much every Apple device out there. It mostly lives on your phone - that's the device you use more than any other. It's also the device that will help Siri calibrate itself to you the best.

Like other digital assistants, Siri is always learning and tuning itself to you. The more you use it, the better it understands your voice and what you're going to ask it, so the better it gets. Siri also lives on devices like the iPad, MacBook Pros and Macs. In the world of the smart home though, Siri only lives on two devices.

First up is HomePod, Apple's big entry in to the smart speaker game. The HomePod's big advantage over competitors like Echo and Google Home is that it's actually a really, really good speaker. Music is the speciality here, and HomePod delivers. It uses its smarts to analyze how sound travels around your room and tunes itself to deliver the best sound in that room.

Read next: The best Siri commands for Apple TV

The second device is the Apple TV, which comes with a fairly uncomfortable remote that has a button dedicated to Siri. It's not exactly a Fire TV Cube, so you can't just speak out "Hey Siri" and hope your Apple TV responds. You must use that remote and that button to activate Siri. Still, the Apple TV is a big Siri device that will act as not only a smart home hub, but your portal to all your entertainment.

In both devices, Siri is optimized to better serve what your needs might be. On the Apple TV, this includes things like searching for 4K movies, searching for specific genres, movies starring certain actors and even searching through Netflix or YouTube. Unfortunately, Siri isn't as good at this stuff on HomePod. Siri plays really well with Apple Music, but not as well with third party services like Spotify.

Naturally, Siri can also be used to control all of those HomeKit devices you set up. Setting up HomeKit devices can be a little complicated compared to, say, Alexa, which lets you simply search your network for compatible devices. You'll have to scan a QR code from within your Home app to set up HomeKit. You don't have to, as there are other methods like NFC and typing in the code, but the QR code is the easiest method that is also the most widely supported.

Once you do scan that QR code, Siri will be able to do things like turn your devices on or off, or change the color of your lights and set the temperature.

How does Siri differ on devices?

Due to Apple's privacy stance, Siri mostly lives on each individual device you have. This also allows Apple to tune Siri to doing different things on different devices. On Apple TV, for instance, Siri can really dig into apps like Netflix or YouTube.

Searching for cat videos on YouTube with iPhone Siri, for instance, will just bring up a web search for YouTube cat videos. If you were to ask Siri on Apple TV for the same thing, it would search through the YouTube app.

However, because Siri lives on your device it also doesn't travel with you as easily as Alexa or Google Assistant. Siri on iPad and Siri on iPhone may do pretty much the same things, but because your data isn't transferred between the two devices for privacy reasons you'll have to re-teach Siri some things.

If you've gotten a new iPhone, you'll be familiar with this. You basically have to re-teach Siri things like your voice, tuning it so that it recognizes your "Hey Siri" and doesn't mistake it for someone else.

The best way to think about Siri is that it's not an ominpresent assistant that follows you around. It's your device's on-board assistant. Your iPhone's Siri is the one that can do the most, and it'll also use Siri's proactive powers to learn your schedule and make app and contact recommendations.

Siri on Apple TV is dedicated to entertainment, which is why it has the ability to do things like dig into apps for TV shows and movies and back up a couple seconds to replay that dialogue you may not have heard.

Siri on HomePod is more focused on music and being a general assistant, though Siri's overall flaws (like a lack of Spotify support) really stand out here. On the Apple Watch, Siri is best utilized in the Siri Watch Face, but it also has the ability to start workouts and such.

Finally, Siri on the Mac is more specialized toward searching through your documents and acting as your work assistant. It's better at sorting through your files, opening different files, organizing them and such.

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

The best Siri commands

Now that you know how Siri works, you may be wondering what the best commands for it are - especially in the smart home. Well, you're lucky, because we have a couple of large lists for you to indulge yourself in.

General Siri commands

  • "Hey Siri, was that an earthquake?"
  • "Hey Siri, Apple Pay John $15 for tacos."
  • "Hey Siri, how do you say 'thank you' in Mandarin?"
  • "Hey Siri, what planes are flying above me?"
  • "Hey Siri, I need a good electrician."

Best Apple TV commands

  • "I want to watch [movie or TV show].”
  • "Find [movie or TV show]."
  • "Show me some [funny horror] movies."
  • "Find new movies in 4K."
  • "What are some popular new releases?"
  • “Pause.”
  • “Play.”
  • “Fast forward two minutes.”
  • “What did he say?” – Scrubs back a few seconds
  • “Turn on subtitles.”
  • “Show me movies on Netflix.”
  • “Show me TV shows on Netflix.”
  • “I want to watch 4K movies on Netflix.”

Best HomePod commands

  • “Hey Siri, what’s the weather going to be like today?”
  • “Hey Siri, read me the news”
  • “Hey Siri, set an alarm for 7am”
  • “Hey Siri, set the alarm for 6am every week day”
  • “Hey Siri, what alarms do I have on?”
  • “Hey Siri, turn the alarm off”
  • “Hey Siri, what's the traffic like?”
  • “Hey Siri, set my kitchen scene”
  • “Hey Siri, play some cooking music”
  • “Hey Siri, how many calories in a slice of bread?”
  • “Hey Siri, turn on the coffee maker”
  • “Hey Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes”
  • “Hey Siri, play some chill/rock/classical music”
  • “Hey Siri, who sings this song?”
  • “Hey Siri, add this song to my favorites”
  • “Hey Siri, who’s the guitarist in this song?”
  • “Hey Siri, don't play this again”
  • “Hey Siri, increase the volume 10%”
  • “Hey Siri, make a station from this song”
  • “Hey Siri, add this to my running playlist”
  • “Hey Siri, set the temperature to 55 degrees”
  • “Hey Siri, set my bedroom scene”
  • “Hey Siri, make the lights blue in the living room”
  • “Hey Siri, is the garage door open?”

Siri guide: The missing manual to Apple's famous assistant

Siri's greatest Easter Eggs

Sometimes you just wanna have fun, and you can certainly do that with Siri. Apple's assistant is definitely filled with some sass, and from dad jokes to geeky references, there are some fun ways to fill your time.

  • "Hey Siri, what is your relationship with DARPA?"
  • "Hey Siri, read me a book."
  • "Hey Siri, read me a poem."
  • "Hey Siri, Alexa."
  • "Hey Siri, can you stop time?"
  • "Hey Siri, what is the best operating system?"
  • "Hey Siri, are you a smartwatch?"
  • "Hey Siri, who is the best assistant?"
  • "Hey Siri, beam me up, Scotty."
  • "Hey Siri, will you be my thunder buddy?"
  • "Hey Siri, what is Inception about?"
  • "Hey Siri, mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest one of them all?"
  • "Hey Siri, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
  • "Hey Siri, can you rap?"
  • "Hey Siri, beatbox for me."
  • "Hey Siri, what does the fox say?"

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