For those who have one of the more recent versions of iPhones and iPads (iPhone 4S or newer, 3rd generation iPad with Retina display or newer), undoubtedly one of the first new features you tried out was Siri, Apple’s onboard digital personal assistant.  There are a lot of things that she can do very easily, though there are also some things which she struggles with – that is, until you set things up properly to make Siri smart.  Here I’m going to explain some of the things you should do to help increase the usefulness of Siri.

Siri icon

The first thing that you want to do is to enable Location Services for Siri.  With recent releases of the iOS operating system, you have been given the ability to discreetly fine tune which specific apps are allowed access to your current location.  This is a handy feature to turn on, for example, for the Camera app, because it then allows the app to geotag each photo.  That way, you can then see a location and see on the map where the photo was taken instead of having to remember it yourself.  It’s a great feature.  In terms of Siri, by enabling Location Services, you allow Siri to become location-aware and make appropriate recommendations to you based on where you are.  For example, with it turned on, you can ask Siri where the nearest gas station is, and she will respond with something close by.  Another example, you can ask Siri “is there anything good to eat nearby?” and she will respond with a list of highly rated restaurants in the neighborhood.  To turn on Location Services for Siri, it is a simple switch you have to toggle on.  Go into the Settings app, and then tap on Privacy, and then Location Services.  Then you need to make sure that general Locations Services is enabled, set at the top of the screen.  Then, to specifically enable Siri, scroll down the list and toggle the Siri option to On.  That is all you need to do to make Siri smarter by knowing your surroundings.  Now she can do things like tell you movie times at a theatre nearby, suggest good places to eat near your current location, or tell you the weather in your city.  Of course, Siri can do many other things (such as place calls or text messages), but with Location Services turned on, she becomes much smarter and much more useful.

Similarly, you will want to ensure that you have the Siri language chosen correctly.  This is quite an obvious change to make if you speak English, but have Siri is set to Spanish.  You know you have to change it.  But you can set an option for Canadian English, American English, Australian English, etc, as well as different localizations for other languages such as French.  By making sure that Siri is set to the right language, you will have better success getting things done properly.  To check this setting, you can find it in the Settings app, then tap on General, and then Siri.  Here you will find a toggle switch to turn Siri on or off, and then below you can tap on language to change it as you wish.  If nothing else, it can be fun hearing Siri talk to you in a different language!

Those are some very simple settings that you can change in the system setup to help you get Siri working pretty well.  However, with a little more work on your end, you can make her even more powerful.  You can do this by manually adding information to your Contacts files.

Contacts iconYou most likely have first and last names associated with a phone number and/or email address, at the very least.  But if you load up the contact info with relationships and addresses, Siri can make sense of that and understand it in your natural spoken language. So, you can list Mary as your mother, record your brother Mike’s address, etc, and now Siri is smart enough to understand “Call Mom” and “How do I get to my brother’s house from here?”  To do this, it is just as simple as the other tips I’ve described, but you do this from within the Contacts app.  When in the app, you simply click the + icon in the top right, which brings up the “New Contact” page.  Here you can fill out as much information about the contact as you wish.  Tap in each field to type and edit, and if you tap on the headings for some of the entries, you can change those as well.  (For example, “mobile” is listed as the default phone number entry, but you can change that heading to say “iPhone” if you wish, or anything else.  Then you can tell Siri “call my brother’s iPhone” and she will dial that number.)  To set your contact’s address, scroll to the bottom of the New Contact sheet, and you will see the line with a green plus that says “add new address.”  Tap on that to begin entering the address (you can change the header field here as well from “home” to whatever else you’d like), and if you wish to enter a secondary address (such as “work”), tap the green plus to do so.

To teach Siri about relationships, scroll to the very bottom of the New Contact sheet, and then tap on the “add field” line.  The sheet that comes up will allow you to specify what additional information you want to provide, but the relationships button is near the bottom, called “Related People.”  By default, it will add a field for “mother” but again, you can change that to whatever is appropriate, and add more related people by clicking the green plus again.  Simply tap in the empty field that prompts you for “Name” and then select from your contact list that pops up the contact that you want to associate with.  This is a little time consuming, especially if you want to build several relationships, but the end result makes Siri easier to use.  Actually, you can even use Siri to update these fields.  All you have to do is activate Siri, and then simply say “Mary is my mom” and she will record that relationship on Mary’s contact card.

Smarter Siri

On a similar note, if you use the Find My Friends app, you can label your friends’ locations as home or work or something more specific like “brother’s girlfriend’s second cousin’s house”.  With this programmed ahead of time, Siri can tap into that data as well if you ask “is my brother at work?”  If you haven’t preprogrammed locations like this, you will simply be presented with their locations on the map.  Also, realize that Siri won’t reply with “your brother is at work”, but rather this only enables her to understand what you mean by “is my brother at work” and give a response like “it looks like it!”

Siri is an amazing app that is being included in the newest Apple devices.  She probably holds more promise for the future than she actually currently has, though the information I’ve outlined above is great advice if you want to know how to make Siri smarter now!

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