iPad mini For Dummies (2013)
Part IV. The iPad mini at Work
Chapter 14. Taking the iPad mini Siri-ously
In This Chapter
Determining what you can say
Making Siri better
How could you not love Siri? The intelligent, voice-activated, virtual personal assistant living like a genie inside the latest iPad not only hears what you have to say but also attempts to figure out the intent of your words. Siri then does her darnedest to respond to your wishes. She — yes, it’s a female voice, at least when you choose U.S. English as your language — can help you dictate and send a message, get directions, tell you who won the ballgame, alert you when the movie is playing, search the web, find a decent place to eat, and lots more. Siri talks back, too, sometimes with humor and other times with attitude. When Ed once told Siri he was tired, she responded with, “That’s fine. I just hope you’re not doing anything dangerous.”
Siri used to be available as a free third-party app on the iPad’s cousin, the iPhone. Apple ended up buying the start-up company behind this neat technology and incorporating the magic inside the iPhone 4S. With iOS 6, Siri moved to iPad (third generation and later). And of course she’s ready to serve you on your mini.
Apple concedes that Siri isn’t perfect. In our experience, when Siri mishears us — sometimes more often than we’d like — it’s because she didn’t quite know what we had in mind. She also requires an Internet connection. But blemishes and all, we think she’s pretty special, and we think you’ll agree.
When you first set up the iPad mini, you have the option of turning on Siri. If you did so, you’re good to go. If you didn’t, tap Settings⇒General⇒Siri and flip the switch so that On is showing.
To call Siri into action, press and hold the Home button until you hear a tone, and then start talking. Pretty simple, eh? On the right side of the screen, you see a picture of a microphone inside a circle, as shown in Figure 14-1. The question “What can I help you with?” appears on the screen.
Figure 14-1: Siri is eager to respond.
Siri also responds when you press a button on a Bluetooth headset.
What happens next is up to you. You can ask a wide range of questions or issue voice commands. If you didn’t get your words out fast enough or you were misunderstood, tap the Microphone icon and try again.
Siri relies on voice recognition and artificial intelligence (hers, not yours). She’ll respond in a conversational (if still ever-so slightly robotic) manner. But using Siri isn’t entirely a hands-free experience. Spoken words are supplemented by information on the iPad screen (as you see in the next section).
Just where does Siri get that information? She seeks answers from the web, using sources such as Yelp, Yahoo!, OpenTable, and WolframAlpha, which you can read more about in the later sidebar. She taps into Location Services on the mini.
Siri on the iPad can open apps — Apple’s own as well as third-party apps. Indeed, from your contacts, Siri might be able to determine who your spouse, co-workers, and friends are, and even know where you live. You might ask, “How do I get home from here?” and Siri will fire up Maps to help you on your way. Or you can specify, “Find a good Italian restaurant near Barbara’s house,” and Siri will serve up a list, sorted by Yelp rating.
Siri requires Internet access. A lot of factors go into her accuracy, including surrounding noises and unfamiliar accents. You also need to be comfortable with the fact that Apple is recording what you say.
Making your iPad (and other computers) really smart
Chances are you haven’t heard of WolframAlpha. But if you want to know the gross domestic product of France or find events that happened on the day you were born, WolframAlpha can deliver such facts. You don’t search the web per se on WolframAlpha as you would using a service such as Google. WolphramAlpha describes itself as a “new way to get knowledge . . . by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods.” It taps into knowledge curated by human “experts.” So you can get nutritional information for peanut M&Ms or compute a growth chart for your 4-foot, 7-inch ten-year old daughter.
There’s a reason that Siri relies on this “computational knowledge engine,” which was driven over a period of nearly 30 years by supersmart guy Stephen Wolfram. We also recommend checking out the $1.99 WolframAlpha app for your iPad.
Figuring Out What to Ask
The beauty of Siri is that there’s no designated protocol you must follow when talking to her. Asking, “Will I need an umbrella tomorrow?” as shown in Figure 14-2, produces the same result as “What is the weather forecast around here for tomorrow?”
Figure 14-2: Siri can find you help.
If you’re not sure what to ask, tap the circled i to list sample questions or commands, as shown in Figure 14-3. You can tap on any of these examples to see even more samples.
Figure 14-3: Siri can help out in many ways.
Here are some ways Siri can lend a hand — um, we mean voice:
FaceTime: “FaceTime phone number my wife.”
Music: “Play Frank Sinatra.”
Messages: “Send a message to Nancy to reschedule lunch.”
Calendar: “Set up a meeting for 9 a.m. to discuss funding.”
Reminders: “Remind me to take my medicine at 8 A.M. tomorrow.”
Maps: “Find an ATM near here.”
Mail: “Mail the tenant about the recent check.”
Stocks: “What’s Apple’s stock price?”
Web search: “Who was the 19th president of the United States?”
WolframAlpha: “How many calories are in a blueberry muffin?”
Clock: “Wake me up at 8:30 in the morning.”
Sports: “Who is pitching for the Yankees tonight?
Trivia: “Who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2003?”
Twitter: “Send tweet, `Going on vacation,’ smiley-face emoticon.’”
As we point out, as good as Siri is, she sometimes needs to be put in her place. Fortunately, you can correct her mistakes fairly easily. The simplest way is to tap the Microphone icon and try your query again. You can say something along the lines of, “I meant Botswana.”
You can also tap the bubble showing what Siri thinks you said, and make edits by using the virtual keyboard or by voice. If a word is underlined, you can use the keyboard to make a correction.
Before Siri sends a dictated message, she seeks your permission first. That’s a safeguard you’ll come to appreciate. If you need to modify the message, you can do so by saying such things as, “Change Tuesday to Wednesday” or “Add: I’m excited to see you, exclamation mark” — indeed, the phrase I’m excited to see you and an ! will be added.
The iPad mini offers a dictation function, so you can speak to your iPad and have the words you say translated into text. It’s easy, and it usually works well. Even if you’re a pretty good virtual-keyboard typist or you use a Bluetooth keyboard (see Chapter 17), dictation is often the fastest way to get your words into your iPad.
If you didn’t enable dictation when setting up your iPad, here’s how to enable it now:
1. Tap Settings on your Home screen.
2. Tap General, and then scroll down and tap Keyboard.
3. Tap the Dictation switch to turn it on.
When this feature is enabled, you can use dictation instead of typing whenever the virtual keyboard appears on the screen. Just tap the Microphone key on the keyboard and begin speaking when the Microphone icon pops out of the key, as shown in Figure 14-4.
Dictation works only if you’re connected to the Internet. If you’re not connected, the Microphone key is grayed-out.
Figure 14-4: Tap the Microphone key to begin dictation; tap anywhere onscreen to end it.
Most apps display the Microphone key on the keyboard, but several, including Safari, don’t. If you don’t see the Microphone key, the app doesn’t accept dictated input.
Tap anywhere on the screen to end the dictation. Your iPad cogitates for a moment, displaying a purple ellipsis (three dots) where your words will be in a few more seconds. Then your words magically appear.
The purple filling inside the ellipsis denotes the relative loudness of your voice. If you’re not getting good results, make sure you’re not speaking too loudly (the icon fills up to the top with purple) or too softly (the icon shows little or no purple filling). If you see no purple filling, your microphone may not be working.
Here are a couple of ways you can improve your dictation experience:
You can speak punctuation by saying it. Remember to say, “period,” “question mark,” or whatever at the end of your sentences. You can also insert commas, semicolons, dashes, and other punctuation symbols by saying their names.
The better your iPad hears you, the better your results:
• A wired headset with a microphone is helpful when you have a lot of ambient noise nearby.
• A Bluetooth headset may be better than the built-in microphone.
• If you use the iPad’s built-in mic, make sure the iPad case or your fingers aren’t covering it.
Making Siri Smarter
From Settings, you can tell Siri which language you want to converse in. As of this writing, Siri was available in English (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, or Australia), as well as versions of Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.
You can also request voice feedback from Siri all the time, or just when you’re using a hands-free headset.
In the My Info field under Settings (tap General⇒Siri-⇒My Info), you can tell Siri who you are. When you tap My Info, your Contacts list appears. Tap your own name in Contacts.
You can call upon Siri even from the Lock screen. That’s the default setting, anyway. Consider this feature a mixed blessing. Not having to type a passcode to get Siri to do her thing is convenient. On the other hand, if your iPad ends up with the wrong person, that person can use Siri to send an e-mail, send a message in your name, post to Facebook, or tweet — bypassing whatever passcode security you thought was in place. If you find this potential scenario scary, tap Settings⇒General⇒Passcode Lock. Then enter your passcode and switch the Siri option under Allow Access When Locked from On to Off. For more on Settings, read Chapter 15.