10 Siri tips and tricks: do more with iPhone 4S

Say the right things - get your iPhone 4S working better for you

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Siri is a digital assistant that's currently only available on the iPhone 4S. Siri is designed to understands what you say and get the right meaning from the instructions that you give it.

Using Siri you can dictate, send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls and plenty more - it'll even tell you the weather.

But its effectiveness can be patchy unless you give it the right commands. So we've put together our top tips and tricks to get more from Apple's digital assistant.

But first, why not check out our video - see how Siri copes with different accents.

1. Dictate to Siri

Why type when you can speak?

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Commands and questions aren't the only ways to put Siri to work. Wherever you can type a long passage of text, tap the microphone key (left of the spacebar) to dictate instead. Siri listens for a bit longer in this mode. Tap the Done button when you're finished. If it stops listening prematurely, just tap the mic key to continue. If you forgot something, move the text cursor to the correct spot, tap the mic and Siri will insert text at that specific point.

2. Fix mistakes

Correct Siri when it gets it wrong

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By now, you'll know that Siri doesn't always get things right. It's particularly sensitive to slurred or mumbled words. Sometimes, Siri will recognise that it probably didn't understand what you said and underline those words and phrases in blue. Tap them to see likely alternatives. Any word, not just those underlined, can be tapped to type over it; or tap the mic key to dictate a replacement for what's selected instead of repeating everything.

3. Add grammar

Punctuate your dictation

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Siri doesn't make assumptions about punctuation and grammar, but it recognises commands for inserting new paragraphs, commas, full stops and many other grammatical constructs. Sadly, these aren't recognised when composing emails outside of Mail. Work around this by starting to compose a message, but provide only the recipient and subject. Next, tap the message to open it in Mail. The text cursor will be in the body, so tap the mic key to start dictating. In this mode, Siri responds to grammatical instructions. See http://tinyurl.com/646sr44 for more.

4. Set relationships

Personalise the conversation

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In the Contacts app, find your record and edit it. Swipe all the way to the bottom of the form, add a field and pick Related People from the list. Tap the left side of the field that appears on the form and you'll be presented with a list of relationships. Siri recognises these connections to you, allowing it to understand personalised requests, such as "Send a message to my boss to say the train has broken down so I'll be late." You can even establish these relationships with spoken commands, such as "My father is...".

5. Arrange to meet

Let Siri find your friends for you on the map

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You were planning on a quiet weekend, but a friend just called encouraging you to meet them at a cool new place they've found. They don't have to send their location using the Maps app to show you where it's at, provided you've already linked up with Apple's Find My Friends app (Free). When you ask Siri where that person is, it retrieves the information from the app and shows their location on a map, along with an approximation of the address so you can pop over and be there in no time.

6. Schedule events

Organise your diary

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Setting up calendar events is one of Siri's most useful features, but its scheduling abilities are more sophisticated than that. You can check your availability with phrases like "Do I have anything on my calendar next July?" and "What does my day look like next Friday?"

If you don't check your schedule, Siri will warn you about any potential overlaps that might exist. It only explicitly asks if you still want to add the new event. However, it will take into account the context for further spoken commands, so you can tell it: "Change the time." Alternatively, if it's the existing event that you want to change, commit the new one to your calendar, then say something like: "Change my 5pm meeting to 4pm."

7. Add to an email

Pick up where you left off

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You might want to add something to a note or email after Siri stops listening. Say "Add" to append where you left off. If you are using the Home button or raise-to-speak method to talk to Siri, you can't use instructions like "new paragraph". Nor can you tell it where to add text. To overcome this, tap the preview to open the item in its corresponding app. Use the mic button to give further dictation. It will be inserted at the cursor's position.

8. Get social with Siri

This tip works with Twitter too

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Siri can't interact with Facebook directly, but you can set things up to post status updates just by speaking. On the Facebook website, in Account settings, click Mobile on the left and follow the instructions to set up text messaging. Create a new contact on your iPhone with 'Facebook' as its name and set its mobile number to the text messaging one Facebook provides. Now you can tell Siri to "Send a message to Facebook".

9. Make lists

Add to pre-existing reminders

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Although Siri can't create new lists in the Reminders app, it can add to existing ones as things spring to mind. Say something like: "Add passport renewal to my holiday list", substituting the list's name followed explicitly with 'list' to give context. Be wary of including the word 'list' in a list's name; Thankfully, if it recognises you're adding to a list but isn't sure which one, it'll prompt you to choose from those available.

10. Security

Prevent tricksters and strangers from using Siri

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You can prevent access to your apps and information by locking your iPhone with a passcode. Still, Siri can answer questions, reassign relationships and, most worrying of all, send messages without you entering it.

You can turn off access to Siri when the phone is locked to stop practical jokes by your friends – or strangers if your phone is lost. In the Settings app, go to General > Passcode Lock, enter the code, then flick the Siri switch to off. Siri remains accessible when the phone is unlocked.

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First published in MacFormat Issue 242

Liked this? Then check out Why Siri is just the start for natural input

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