Efficiency with Siri

Without question, Siri is one of the greatest additions to iOS in recent years, however it can become even more valuable if you know its nuances. The discoverability of Siri is lower than most Apple experiences, presumably due to the limitations of conversational recognition.

Luckily, Apple provides a quick-start guide with Siri: simply hold the home button down to activate, and tap the i button. A sizeable list of example commands appear, one for each category, and even more are accessible by tapping down further. Not every command is listed there, though.

Siri often provides a different way to achieve something equally possible without it: you can launch Safari and search for “pictures of kittens”, or simply ask Siri to show you pictures of kittens. The result is the same.

There are some rare instances where Siri provides a significantly more efficient way to accomplish a task then is possible using other methods. There are also some scenarios where Siri is capable of something not otherwise possible using touch input alone. This article lists my favourite examples of such features.

“Delete all my Alarms”

I use the alarm feature in Clock.app on my iPhone every single day, even if it’s just as a backup alarm. This ensures that over time, an incredibly large number of alarms build up in the Clock app. I recently found out, to my delight, that asking Siri to “delete all my alarms” does just that. It would normally take three taps to delete one alarm using the Clock app alone: Siri can delete every single alarm after I press and hold the home button and utter a few words. This saves minutes every few days.

“What’s 53 multiplied by 4?”

Siri’s Wolfram Alpha integration ensures easy mathematical problem solving: just ask Siri a simple multiplication and you’ll have you answer faster than you could have launched a calculator app and entered in your query.

A caveat to this otherwise great solution is the complexity by which receiving a copy-able answer is obtained. If having the answer available to copy into another app or document is vital after having asked Siri, it is possible, just fiddly. First, install the free WolframAlpha Viewer app and the paid WolframAlpha app. Then, once Siri presents the answer to you, tap the WolframAlpha icon in the bottom corner of the displayed card. You’ll be taken to the result in WolframAlpha’s app. In order to copy the result, tap the small, double arrow next to the result you wish to copy, then tap the result itself. The result will be copied into the search field at the top of the WolframAlpha app. From there, it’s simple to just select and manipulate it.

I can’t help but feel it’s far too difficult to copy an answer to the clipboard from a WolframAlpha result displayed in Siri. It seems needlessly complex to have two apps installed to do this. I understand WolframAlpha’s desire to receive money for the feature, but I don’t understand why I can’t remove the free WolframAlpha Viewer app once I’ve installed the paid version. This is inelegant.

“Direct me to the supermarket”

Asking Siri this simple query is far more elegant and efficient than launching the Maps app and searching. I use this weekly.

“Play music by Rush”

I’m not a regular user of the shuffle feature when listening to music, but occasionally I’ll want to listen to a mixed selection of tracks by a single artist. Asking Siri to “Play music by Muse” will do exactly the same as me launching the Music app, navigating to the Muse entry, tapping All Songs, then hitting shuffle.

Siri is a new interface to iOS. Comparing Siri to regular touch input is interesting: it excels in some respects and is almost equal or even inefficient in others. Finding new ways to become more efficient is a fantastic feeling. These Siri commands have helped me do just that.

If you have any other favourite Siri commands not listed here, let me on on twitter or send me an email and they might just find their way into this list.