Isn’t Siri rubbish? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but Apple’s voice-activated ‘personal assistant’, introduced with the iPhone 4s and later made available on iPad, certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Back in 2013 we went on to Twitter and asked Macworld readers about their experiences with Siri, and the things that they love and hate about Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant. In those early days, only about half said they use it – but while some of those used it fairly rarely, others defended the feature staunchly.
We’re going to concentrate on the bad stuff: the reasons why the other half gave it a go and recoiled with horror, never to ask for Siri’s help again.
So: what is it that makes Siri so rubbish? Read next: How to use Siri on Mac and we have a tutorial on how to use Siri Shortcuts here.
Siri’s not working at all on my device. Can it run Siri?
If Siri isn’t working for you, the first thing to check is whether your device is able to run Siri.
Siri is available on the iPhone 4s and later, on the iPad 3 and later (including all iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad mini models, and the iPad 2017) and on the 5th- and 6th-gen iPod touch models. Plus every Apple Watch model and the 4th-gen Apple TV, and any Mac able to run macOS Sierra.
If you’ve got an iPhone 4 or earlier, or an iPad 1 or iPad 2, you won’t be able to run Siri, although there are some alternative voice-control apps on the App Store that you might like to try.
How to turn Siri on
If it’s not working at all, Siri might be switched off. In iOS, go to Settings > Siri (in earlier versions of iOS you had to select Settings > General > Siri) and make sure the top slider, labelled Siri, is on, and green.
On Mac, open System Preferences and click Siri (on the fourth row). Make sure there’s a tick next to Enable Siri on the lefthand side.
Don’t know what to ask
Simon Davies was put off Siri by his first (and only) experience. “Nope. Tried once. Gave up.”
“To be honest, I find it quite useless,” added Abdullah.
The best questions to ask Siri
Solution: Don’t be put off by one bad experience, Simon! Siri can do lots of stuff but it takes a little while to get used to its way of working. Bear in mind that Siri is constantly improving: Apple is continually adding features, and it should get better at interpreting your wishes the more you use it.
There are many, many useful questions you can ask Siri. For more ideas of the questions that Siri can handle, press and hold the Home button to activate Siri, but don’t ask it anything. After a short wait it will start cycling through several pages of sample questions. In our how to use Siri on the iPhone guide, we have lots of great questions you can ask Siri. We also have Funny things to say to Siri here.
If your issue is that Siri can’t understand your requests, rather than not knowing which questions are likely to produce useful results, try the fixes we list below for accent problems.
Siri can’t understand your accent
Will Leitch complained about Siri’s ability to grasp our weird and varied British voices. “The interaction bit is useless with UK and Irish accents,” he writes. “Never seems to learn.”
“It only recognises what I say about 10 percent of the time,” sighs Lee Peterson. Sorry Lee, what was that? And OwenScott never uses the feature at all, for precisely this reason. “Can’t understand my accent,” he explains.
How to make Siri understand a British accent
We’re very sorry to say this – firmly opposed as Macworld is to the homogenisation of British accents – but it may be worth developing a ‘Siri voice’ in the same way our parents’ generation had telephone voices. Just talk a bit posher. (More poshly?) And try speaking very clearly and slowly. (Find that embarrassing? We deal with that later on.)
Here’s how not to do it:
On a less class-conscious level, check the microphone on your iOS device is clear and that you’ve removed the case if it blocks this. Apple has a handy Siri troubleshooting guide with some more advice related to this.
Read next: iPhone buying guide 2016
Siri can’t pronounce my name
This happens a fair bit, but don’t worry: it’s straightforward to teach Siri the correct pronunciation. Here’s how to teach Siri to pronounce your name properly.
Siri can’t hear me – is there a problem with the microphone?
Siri is dependent on being able to hear you, so the microphone on your iPad or iPhone is crucial. If Siri is activating – you’re seeing the the soundwave graphic and “What can I help you with?” text – but Siri can’t make out what you’re saying, there could be an issue with the microphone.
Here are some things to check:
Case: If you’ve got a case or cover, this could be obstructing the mic. Take the case off and try again. Any better?
Fluff: Is there any fluff, gunk or detritus in the microphone aperture? Locate the mic – on your iPhone it will be on the bottom edge, although the precise layout varies from model to model, while on an iPad it will be on the righthand edge – and examine it for any obstructions. Blowing gently, using a can of compressed air and probing very cautiously with a pin or similar can all help clear away annoying fluff, but you must make sure you don’t damage the mic and aggravate the issue. Now try Siri again. Any better?
If Siri’s still not picking up your words, there may be something more serious wrong with the microphone. To isolate this, you need to see if Siri works with a different microphone – you could plug in a pair of headphones with an integrated mic, for instance, or plug your iDevice into a CarPlay-equipped vehicle. Any better? If so, Siri is fine but the microphone isn’t. You’ll need to take your iPhone or iPad into an Apple Store and get the microphone looked at.
Siri requires an internet connection
Our own Ashleigh Allsopp uses Siri regularly, but pointed out: “I never use Siri unless I’m on Wi-Fi. It’s the most irritating thing ever because it requires an internet connection to do EVERYTHING!”
Jim Martin, who is the editor of our sister website PC Advisor, echoed Ashleigh’s comments. “In my view, Apple needs to build in on-board recognition for simple commands – timers, alarms, playing music, sending messages etc – that doesn’t need an internet connection.
“In the car this is a major problem. Drive anywhere without a 3G signal and you’re scuppered. There’s no saying ‘Text my wife to say I’m running an hour late because of bad traffic’.”
How to use Siri without an internet connection
Solution: We can’t get past this fundamental limitation of Siri’s technology and entirely agree with Jim’s idea. But remember that Voice Control (which offers a few similar functions, such as letting you dial contacts’ numbers verbally) does work offline. If you want to use that instead, you’ll need to switch off Siri: Go to Settings > General > Siri.
Other people keep turning on ‘Hey Siri’ on your iPhone or iPad
Hey Siri is a neat feature. If you’ve got the feature switched on, you only have to say the words “Hey Siri” and Siri will turn itself on and listen out for instructions – even if your iPhone or iPad was asleep.
One issue with this – one which was alluded to humorously at Apple’s iPad Pro 9.7in launch, where Phil Schiller carefully placed a pause between the words “Hey… Siri” so that he wouldn’t set off the devices in the audience – is that other people can sometimes activate Siri for you.
How to stop other people activating ‘Hey Siri’
If this is driving you to distraction, you can of course turn off Hey Siri entirely – go to Settings, General, Siri, and tap the slider next to ‘Allow “Hey Siri”‘ – but then you’ll miss out on a cool feature. Instead, assuming you didn’t do this when you first set up your device, train Hey Siri so that he or she is attuned to your voice and only your voice. (And, in practice, a few other people with very similar voices, but you can’t have everything.)
Go back to Settings, General, Siri and tap the slider next to ‘Allow “Hey Siri”‘ so it goes white, then tap once more so it goes green again. This will kick you back into the Hey Siri setup process that you presumably skipped last time. You’ll be instructed to say the words “Hey Siri” three times, then a couple of more advanced phrases, and this should be enough to get Siri used to your intonations.
Turn off the device’s screen and check Hey Siri works, but you should be good to go.
Keep activating Siri on the wrong device
A common (and extremely first-world) problem among the tech-rich is that saying Hey Siri to one device promptly activates the feature on all the other Macs, Apple TVs, Apple Watches, iPhones and iPads within earshot.
You can keep the convenience of Hey Siri while limiting its effects to the devices you’re currently using, however. Open Settings on an iPhone or iPad and tap Siri, then tap the slider next to ‘Access When Locked’ so it turns white. You’ll still be able to use Hey Siri on this device (assuming the ‘Allow Hey Siri’ slider below is green), but only when it’s unlocked.
Is Siri’s information up to date?
Macworld’s production editor, Rob Woodcock, writes: “Some of the information Siri provides is seriously out of date. In Tunbridge Wells, for example, it directs people to a hospital that closed down two years ago.”
(Rob is a great champion of Tunbridge Wells and its municipal facilities.)
Solution: We wouldn’t depend on Siri in life-or-death situations – such as medical emergencies – at this point. It remains a work in progress. But, like Maps, Siri is getting better. And without meaning any disrepect to the fine town of Tunbridge Wells, Siri will be at its best in larger cities.
Of course, if you regularly use Siri, you’ll have a good idea of its strengths in your home town, and the sorts of information it can be depended on to provide in a pinch.
Too much noise
Jim Martin was also displeased that Siri’s auditory fussiness means he can’t use it to work in his favoured location. “The pub would be too noisy for Siri to understand,” he worried. “Probably.”
How to use Siri in a noisy place
Speaking slowly and clearly directly into the microphone (and, as we mentioned previously, checking that the microphone is clear and unobstructed) will improve your chances of getting Siri to understand you, but our experience suggests that Siri is actually okay in moderately noisy places. Pub, yes. Late-night discotheque, perhaps not – in those places you’re better off typing out searches and using menus manually.
Macworld Masterclass: Make the most of Siri
Not sure if Siri did its job or not
Rick Lecoat doesn’t yet feel confident enough to depend on Siri. “Got excited when I realised I could set an alarm or timer,” he says, “but inevitably I then confirm it’s set as intended – so benefit lost.”
Solution: When you checked, Rick, did it turn out that Siri had done the job as expected? From the way you describe this, it sounds like it did. As with most of these issues, our advice would be to keep on using the feature – confidence will come in time, after Siri has done its job five times, or 10 times, without a problem. For simple tasks it really can be handy.
Too annoying to use
Gareth Llewellyn assured us that he only uses Siri “when I have a pressing need to be annoyed beyond belief”.
Solution: First, cheer yourself by asking Siri a few funny questions. Hopefully that’ll soothe the annoyance a bit.
If Siri’s smug voice (and British Siri, with no offence intended to the voice artist, can be a bit pompous) is winding you up, put him on mute – go to Settings > General > Siri > Voice Feedback and select Hands-free Only. That way the responses will appear on screen rather than being spoken aloud (unless you plug in a hands-free kit).
Too embarrassing to use
Ryan J. Nicholson reckons Siri is “too embarrassing to use in public. People would just think I’m talking to a phone.”
Solution: Well, first of all you can use Siri with a hands-free kit, such as a Bluetooth headset, which if you’re reasonably subtle will make people think you’re having a real conversation with a person. It’s also less likely to attract attention from muggers.
Secondly, surely the embarrassment factor depends on where you use Siri? Whipping out the iPhone for a word with Siri in a nice pub full of middle-aged people with real jobs is probably going to make you look like a spiv, but a street in Dalston should be fine. A general rule is that if you’d feel self-conscious taking a photo with an iPad, using Siri is probably not on.
We think voice control technology has a big future, and in the next few years you’ll look less and less peculiar using Siri in public.
Read next: The evolution of Siri: we assess Siri’s school report
Dislike Siri’s voice or ‘personality’
Some Macworld readers find it hard to get on with Apple’s chirpy personal assistant.
“She never understands me,” explained Sarah Taylor. “We fell out quite quickly.” This sounds like many of our early relationships.
iPad Pro 9.7in review | iPad mini 4 review
Solution: You can change Siri’s personality – sort of – by changing his voice. Go to Settings > General > Siri > Siri Voice and tap where it says British (Male). In the next screen you’ll be able to switch to a female voice, or get an American or Australian voice instead.
Siri’s language is changed in a separate field on the same screen, so in theory you can stick to England (United Kingdom) while changing Siri’s accent to UK or Australian. But in our extremely unscientific tests US-accented Siri seemed to struggle more with British idioms and accents than the UK default, even though he was still set to the English (United Kingdom) language. For this reason we’d recommend sticking to the gender change, but your mileage may vary.
If all six of the gender/accent combinations get on your wick, you can always consider putting Siri on mute, as explained in the ‘Siri is annoying’ section.
Finally, for the jailbreakers out there (standard disclaimer: jailbreaking your iPhone or iPad is likely to void your warranty, and may damage your device), it’s possible to set a custom wallpaper for when Siri is active. It’s hard to stay mad at Siri if he has Jesse Pinkman‘s face.
Keep forgetting to use Siri
Is this Siri’s fault? Possibly – after all, if it’s not providing a valuable service, why would we remember it’s there?
“I don’t find it that useful and forget it’s there most of the time,” said Adrian R, who uses Siri “rarely”.
Solution: Start off with a couple of things that you know Siri can do easily – voice dialling and dictating reminders and appointments, say. After a while this will become second nature. You can build up your repertoire from there.
If you’re really struggling to remember that Siri is there, maybe you could change your wallpaper to this:
Two more thoughts on Siri. Chris Towndrow informs us that “there’s a nice bloke in our local Waitrose called Siri”. Thanks for that.
But the last word goes to Adam, who offers a melancholy insight into his romantic affairs: “I’ve always had Siri and I’ve never used it. Today’s version of a condom.”
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