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7 Things You Didn’t Know Siri Could Do for You

April 28, 2014

Sure, Siri on the iPhone makes for a fun way to ask what the weather is like outside, but Apple’s polite personal assistant can also do a heck of a lot more for you.

Here are seven great Siri features that you’ve probably never used.

1. Opening apps. If you don’t learn to use Siri for anything else, for the love of Mike, learn this one. 

You can say, “Open Calendar” or “Play Angry Birds” or “Launch Calculator.” 

Result: The corresponding app opens instantly. It’s exactly the same as pressing the Home button, swiping across the screen until you find the app you’re looking for, and then tapping its icon — but without pressing the Home button, swiping across the screen until you find the app you’re looking for, and then tapping its icon. 

2. Change your settings. This one’s new in iOS 7, and it’s excellent. You can make changes to certain basic settings just by speaking your request. You can say, for example, “Turn on Bluetooth,” “Turn off WiFi,” “Turn on Do Not Disturb,” and “Turn on Airplane mode.” (You can’t turn off Airplane mode by voice, because Siri doesn’t work without an Internet connection.)

You can also make screen adjustments: “Make the screen brighter.” “Dim the screen.”

Result: Siri makes the requested adjustment, tells you so, and displays the corresponding switch in case she misunderstood your intention.

3. Read full emails to you. In iOS 7, Siri can actually read full messages to you — not just the header information (to, from, and subject line).

For example, if you say, “Read my latest email” or “Read my new email,” Siri reads aloud your most recent email message. (Siri then offers you the chance to dictate a response.)

Or you can use the new summary-listing commands. When you say, “Read my email,” Siri starts walking backward through your Inbox, telling you the subject of each, plus who sent it and when.

While this recitation is going on, you can tap the microphone button to interrupt with “Read that email” or “Read the third email” (for example)—and Siri will read a summary of the email (not the whole body). 

She once again invites you to dictate a reply; if you say no, she picks up from where she left off, reading the rest of the subjects.

Result: Siri reads aloud.

You can also compose a new message by voice; anytime you use the phrase “about,” that becomes the subject line for your new message. “Email Mom about the reunion.” “Email my boyfriend about the dance on Friday.” “New email to Freddie Gershon.” “Mail Mom about Saturday’s flight.” “Email Frank and Cindy Vosshall and Peter Love about the picnic.” “Email my assistant and say, ‘Thanks for arranging the taxi!’ ” “Email Gertie and Eugene about their work on the surprise party, and say I really value your friendship.”

(If you’ve indicated only the subject and addressee, Siri prompts you for the body of the message.)

You can reply to a message Siri has just described, too. “Reply, ‘Dear Robin (comma), I’m so sorry about your dog (period). I’ll be more careful next time (period).” “Call her mobile number.” “Send him a text message saying, ‘I got your note.’ ” 

Result: You get miniature Mail message, showing you Siri’s handiwork before you send it.

4. Search and play music. Instead of fumbling around in your Music app, save yourself steps and time by speaking the name of the album, song, or band: “Play some Beatles.” “Play ‘I’m a Barbie Girl.’ ” “Play some jazz.” “Play my jogging playlist.” “Play the party mix.” “Shuffle my ‘Dave’s Faves’ playlist.” “Play.” “Pause.” “Resume.” “Skip.” 

If you’ve set up any iTunes Radio stations, you can call for them by name, too: “Play Dolly Parton Radio.” Or be more generic: Just say “Play iTunes Radio” and be surprised. Or be more specific: Say “Play some country music” (substitute your favorite genre).

Result: Siri plays (or skips, shuffles, or pauses) the music you asked for — without ever leaving whatever app you were using.

5. Find My Friends. You see this category only if you’ve installed Apple’s Find My Friends app. “Where’s Ferd?” “Is my dad home?” “Where are my friends?” “Who’s here?” “Who is nearby?” “Is my mom at work?”

Result: Siri shows you a beautiful little map with the requested person’s location clearly indicated by a blue pushpin. (She does, that is, if you’ve set up Find My Friends, you’ve logged in, and your friends have made their locations available.)

6. Search movie facts. Siri is also the virtual equivalent of an insufferable film buff. She knows everything. “Who was the star of Groundhog Day?” “Who directed Chinatown?” “What is Waterworld rated?” “What movie won Best Picture in 1952?”

It’s not just about old movies, either. Siri also knows everything about current showtimes in theaters. “What movies are opening this week?” “What’s playing at the Watton Cineplex?” “Give me the reviews for Titanic 2: The Return.” “What are today’s showtimes for Monsters University?”

Result: Tidy tables of movie theaters or movie showtimes, displayed on a faux movie marquee. (Tap one for details.) Sometimes you get a movie poster filled with facts — and, of course, a link to rent or buy it on iTunes.

7. Post to Twitter or Facebook. iOS is a red-blooded, full-blown Twitter companion. So you can say things like, “Tweet, ‘I just saw three-headed dog catch a Frisbee in midair. Unreal.’ ” “Tweet with my location, ‘My car just broke down somewhere in Detroit. Help?’ ”

Facebook is fair game, too. You can say, “Post to Facebook, ‘The guy next to me kept his cellphone on for the whole plane ride,’ ” or “Write on my wall, ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.’ ”

Result: Siri offers you a sheet (a miniature dialog box) where you can approve the transcription and then, if it all looks good, send it off to your Twitter or Facebook feed.

Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “iPhone: The Missing Manual,” Seventh Edition from O’Reilly Media.