What is Siri? How Can Siri Help Me?

A look at Apple's personal assistant for iOS

Siri activated on the lock screen


Did you know your iPad comes with a personal assistant? Siri is quite capable of scheduling events, setting reminders, counting down a timer and even booking reservations at your favorite restaurants. In fact, Siri extends a lot of the functionality of the iPad to your voice, including the ability to skip typing on the keyboard and take voice dictation instead.

How Do I Turn Siri On or Off?

Siri is probably already turned on for your device, but if not, you can activate or modify Siri by opening your iPad's settings, choosing General from the left-side menu and then tapping Siri from the general settings.

You can also turn on Hey Siri, which allows you to activate Siri by saying "Hey Siri" rather than pressing down on the home button. For some iPads, "Hey Siri" will only work when the iPad is connected to a power source, and some older models do not have access to "Hey Siri" at all.

You can also use the Siri settings to change Siri's voice from female to male. You can even change her accent or language.

How Do I Use Siri?

You can activate Siri by holding down the Home Button on your iPad. After you press down for a few seconds, the iPad will beep at you and the screen will change to the Siri interface. The bottom of this interface has multicolored lines that indicate Siri is listening. Simply ask her a question to get started.

What Should I Ask Siri?

Siri is designed as a human language personal assistant. This means you should talk to her just like she was a human, and if she can do what you are asking, it should work. You can experiment by asking her almost anything. You might be surprised at just what she can understand or even some of the funny questions she can answer. Here are a few of the basics:

  • Siri can find nearby restaurants and events. Just ask, "Find nearby pizza" or "What movies are playing?"
  • Siri can set a reminder. Just say, "Remind me to take the dog for a walk at 9 PM."
  • Siri can set a timer. Just say, "Timer 30 seconds." This one is great for cooking.
  • Siri can check the weather with one word: "Weather."
  • Siri will update your status if you say, "Update my Facebook status to: Just watched Doctor Who and loved it." She can also tweet.
  • Siri will figure out a tip for you. "What's the tip for twenty dollars and seventeen cents?" Siri will give you the tip amount at 15%, 18%, and 20%.
  • Siri can also answer complex questions and search the web. "Who wrote Harry Potter?"
  • Siri can open apps and play music. "Play Ed Sheeran" will play popular Ed Sheeran songs you have on your iPad. And if you have Apple Music, it will play a selection from that service. You can even ask her to "play popular songs from the 60s."
  • Find out more about how Siri can make you more productive by reading our article all about Siri's productivity capabilities.

How Can I Use Siri for Voice Dictation?

The iPad's keyboard has a special key with a microphone on it. If you tap this microphone, you will turn on the iPad's voice dictation feature. This feature is offered anytime you have one of the standard on-screen keyboards on the display, so you can use it in most apps. And voice dictation doesn't stop with words. You can insert a comma by saying "comma" and even command the iPad to "start a new paragraph."

Is Siri Always Available? How Does It Work?

Siri works by sending your voice to Apple's servers for an interpretation and then turning that interpretation into an action. Unfortunately, this means Siri doesn't work if you aren't connected to the internet.

One major benefit of sending your voice to Apple is that the engine interpreting your voice commands is much more powerful than could exist on the iPad. It can 'learn' your voice, picking up on your accent to better understand what you say the more you use the service. You can even get your Mac to activate Siri by voice if you want.

Is Siri Better Than Google's Personal Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana or Amazon's Alexa?

Apple is known for setting trends and Siri is no different. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all developed their own voice recognition assistant. There's no easy way to judge which is better, and for the most part, there's no real reason to pit them against each other.

The "best" personal assistant is the one you are tied to the most. If you mainly use Apple products, Siri will win out. She's tied into Apple's Calendar, Notes, Reminders, etc. On the other hand, if you mainly use Microsoft products, Cortana might work out better for you. 

Perhaps the biggest factor is the device you are using at the time. You aren't going to use Siri to search your Windows-based PC. And if you have your iPad in your hands, opening up the Google app just to do a voice search is one step too many when you can just ask Siri.