Editorial: Siri is greatly improved in iPadOS and iOS 13, but we still need more

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in General Discussion
Apple's Siri is always said to lag behind its competitors, but Apple has made giant strides with it. Even still, though, there are a few really key things we still long to see added.




The received wisdom is that Siri lags behind Amazon Alexa and Google Home, but received wisdom has a problem. Whatever it's about, the opinion tends to be quickly formed and it takes a very long time to change it. So right now Siri has zoomed ahead with the advances in iOS 13 and iPadOS, but it's going to take time for that to really register.

That's partly because it's going to be months before we all have the final versions on our iPhones and iPads. It's also because it's then going to take us time to really experience the differences.

It's especially so because some of those differences are a direct result of improvements to Siri Shortcuts and that's nowhere near as mainstream as Alexa is.

And it's also the case that Siri can go further, that there are things we'd like it to change, areas we'd love it to improve in. Yet while this may be us reading too much into it, some of this year's improvements even lay the groundwork for these areas.

The wish list

If there is one thing that would make Siri better, it's fixing how much of an interruption it is. The most visible part of that is on an iPhone or iPad when you invoke Siri and immediately lose the whole screen to that black background and, admittedly, gorgeous waveform.

Oddly, this is one area where Siri is best on the Mac.

Siri on the Mac interrupts what you're doing, but at least it doesn't take up the whole screen
Siri on the Mac interrupts what you're doing, but at least it doesn't take up the whole screen


As much as we all wanted to get Siri on the Mac, once we had it, we realised we were usually typing on these machines and it was quicker to do that than to ask Siri for things.

Only, when you do ask Siri on a Mac, the good part is how it slides in like a notification. Ask what you want to ask, and Siri displays the results in a list. The results are the same as if you asked on an iPad and the list looks just as it would on an iPhone, but it doesn't take up the whole screen.

That means both that you can be reading something else on the display as you talk to Siri, but also that you can drag a result out. If your Siri search turns up a document, just drag it out to Word or the desktop. You're only dragging an alias, but you're able to drag it where you want.

Once Siri on the Mac has found what you're looking for, you can drag an alias of them out to anywhere you like.
Once Siri on the Mac has found what you're looking for, you can drag an alias of them out to anywhere you like.


It would be good to have that facility in iPadOS too, where you have the room to see a similar Siri notification and drag items off into Files.

Get on with it

Even though this is already less intrusive on a Mac than on iPad or iPhone, though, it's still an interruption.

Whatever you do with Siri, whichever device you're using, the procedure is the same. You stop what you're doing, invoke Siri, ask what you want, and wait for the reply.

Sure, you often have a supplementary step when you have to ask it again because something wasn't understood.

Even when it works, though, it is still a discrete, specific step. It is possible on the Mac to keep typing as you talk to Siri, but it's a contortion. You have to click back into your word processor, whether you've clicked on the Siri icon or you have a Mac that responds to "Hey, Siri."

What we'd like is to see us all being able to just talk to Siri as we go. To carry on typing notes during a phone call as we ask it to add a meeting to our calendar, for instance.

Every. Single. Time. These are the four steps of using Siri and how much it interrupts your work as you use it.
Every. Single. Time. These are the four steps of using Siri and how much it interrupts your work as you use it.


It would be good, too, if Siri were just slightly cleverer about figuring out which device you're talking to. The HomePod seems to have bionic ears, for instance, and will pick us up calling for Siri when we're in the next zip code.

When we're at a desk with a Mac, an iPhone, a HomePod, an iPad and our Apple Watches, that HomePod will usually think we're talking to it. However, the iPhone will react too. It's only for a moment, but the iPhone screen lights and then goes dark.

That's distracting when you did mean to use your HomePod, it's infuriating when you meant to use the iPhone.

Let Siri be more subtle, with no screens reacting until the right device has been recognized. We already have the issue that we've spoken into the air asking for Siri and then realised we're in the bathroom without any devices. Let's have it so that we never mentally link Siri to any device, we just know it's with us.

Getting there

We are on the way to that. Apple's AirPods 2 added the ability to listen out for the phrase "Hey, Siri," but they took something away, too. They took away the bleep. With the original AirPods, not only did you have to tap to get Siri to work, but you waited for the bleep that told you to start speaking.

Now you simply speak and it isn't just quicker and more convenient, it actually changes how you talk to Siri. We had trained ourselves to wait for the bleep, to hold that thought for half a moment, and then to race to say what we wanted in case the ending bleep came.

That became more natural, more second nature, than we'd have thought, but one thing that does not get any less cumbersome is having to say "Hey, Siri," so many times.

We would love Apple to ditch that, to let devices listen to us -- while retaining our privacy -- and understand when we meant Siri to do something.

How to set up Raise to Speak on Apple Watch. The dramatic arm-flinging pose you have to use is not pictured.
How to set up Raise to Speak on Apple Watch. The dramatic arm-flinging pose you have to use is not pictured.


And of course Apple has already done this. If you have a Series 3 or 4, and watchOS 5 or later, you have Raise to Speak. In theory, you just have to lift your wrist and begin speaking. The very action of moving your wrist is interpreted as your having said "Hey, Siri."

If only it worked. Right now you have to strike a pose like you've just completed an Argentine tango, or you're about to go into battle behind your Captain America shield.

Conversational Siri for Beginners

For now, we have to keep saying "Hey, Siri" and we have still have to be too conscious of our speaking rate. It is fantastic that we can say things like: "Hey, Siri, add Pepsi Max to our shopping list in OmniFocus," and it will do it. Except when it doesn't. Saying precisely those words in that sequence either gets you what you want, or it has Siri trying to add to your Apple Reminders app instead.

However, as well as AirPods becoming more natural because they lack the old bleep, so apps are about to become more natural because of the specific advances in Siri for iPadOS and iOS 13.

Developers, such as the Omni Group which makes OmniFocus, have now been given new tools to work with Siri and their apps. An app developer can do what's called donating a shortcut to Siri.

If you use an app to add an item to your shopping list, that app can then create a Shortcut for that action and donate it to Siri. It depends on the app developer, but via shortcuts, they can make Siri work with their apps better than ever before.

And Apple has also created what it's calling Conversational Shortcuts.

This means that you will be able to start a Siri Shortcut by speaking and then it will be able to get Siri to ask you questions about it.

Right now that is being positioned as something to improve Siri Shortcuts and to give developers more they can do with this system. However, most users will not bother with the distinction between Siri and Siri Shortcuts, they'll just know that now you can converse more with Siri to get things done.

We'll only really appreciate that when we and developers have had these improvements for a while. Yet added to Apple's promise of an even more natural-sounding voice for this assistant, Siri is moving ahead tremendously.

And of course we now have all the more reason to think that it's going to get better and better. The fact that iPadOS has been formed out of the ribs of iOS 13 is great, but the fact that its first iteration brings more productivity features is superb.

Craig Federighi even replied directly to an email from an iPad user about improving Siri on it.

Craig replied me back!
The mail was about my request for Siri on iPad to behave like on the Mac, without filling the entire screen.

Well, maybe next year. pic.twitter.com/7xIgxDB7hf

-- Juliano Rossi (@_JulianoRossi)


The tweet about that email was first reported by MacRumors, though you can take a line like "we'll consider it" too seriously. Whether Federighi was just being polite or not, though, Apple is getting the message that Siri and the iPad are important to us all.


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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,035member
    I rarely if ever use Siri for anything other than dictation.  It's especially terrible at dictation when it goes through bluetooth in the car...a little better when wired.  I do sometimes have it set alarms and reminders, but I find that I have to really know what I'm going to say without pausing, or it screws up.   It's ever been much more than a novelty for me.  
  • Reply 2 of 26
    Siri is indispensable and almost flawless at scheduling, messaging and music. Sure it can be so much better but at this point I can't imagine using my Apple devices without it.
    StrangeDaysmike1macpluspluslolliver
  • Reply 3 of 26
    prolineproline Posts: 191member
    I can’t wait for DED to write a rebuttal arguing that Siri is already perfect, just like the butterfly keyboards. 

    Seriously though, you can break Siri just by saying “turn the lights off... in two minutes”. She’s an idiot. 
    atomic101Rayerflyingdpbonobobchemengin1Carnageelijahg
  • Reply 4 of 26
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,808member
    I mostly use Siri for dictation, alarms and timers, and for CarPlay.

    My biggest issue with Siri is that I don’t know what they’ve added or made better because they never let you know so I have no idea what new features or previously tried and failed attempts will now work beautifully and help save me time. Amazon, on the other hand, sends out an email on Fridays to keep you informed.
    flyingdpbonobobelijahgroundaboutnow
  • Reply 5 of 26
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,570member
    I use Siri daily, typically for HomeKit, texts, timers, radio, and CarPlay (where it's pretty freaking awesome). I really don't know what the problem is...no, it's not great at contextual conversation, but AFAIK none of them are -- theyre dumb computers. But I don't see what the hate is for when it comes to the routine and simple tasks. That's about all I can expect of a computer, since true AI is still a pipe dream.
    ihatescreennamesmike1macpluspluslolliver
  • Reply 6 of 26
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 657member
    Despite a variety of weaknesses in Siri and other Apple products, I find more of my friends moving towards Apple than away from it.
  • Reply 7 of 26
    hentaiboyhentaiboy Posts: 952member
    “We've spoken into the air asking for Siri and then realised we're in the bathroom without any devices.”

    Hey Siri - can you recommend a good 
    hemorrhoid cream?
  • Reply 8 of 26
    markbritonmarkbriton Posts: 114member
    Hang on, Wolverhampton?! Are you a yam yam?!
  • Reply 9 of 26
    I use Siri all the time with almost no issue. By “almost no” I mean that the majority of the times I have an issue is when I have a poor connection AND I’m invoking Siri via my Apple Watch. Other than that, I use Siri multiple times a day for a variety of tasks at home, in my car, on the rail trail, etc and it makes things easier. 

    Soli said:
    My biggest issue with Siri is that I don’t know what they’ve added or made better because they never let you know so I have no idea what new features or previously tried and failed attempts will now work beautifully and help save me time.
    I wish Apple was a little more communicative about what is new or changed more often than the occasional keynote.  And while I appreciate that they’re working to make the voice sound better that’s low on my wish list. As far as I’m concerned the voice is fine now but other areas could improve. It’s annoying that I have to find some random website that lists what new thing they’ve discovered is now possible rather than hear about it from Apple. 

    I really don't know what the problem is...no, it's not great at contextual conversation, but AFAIK none of them are -- theyre dumb computers. But I don't see what the hate is for when it comes to the routine and simple tasks. That's about all I can expect of a computer, since true AI is still a pipe dream.
    I’m right there with you. And, you’re right, none of them are anywhere close to “the dream”. I know one couple with a Google Home that they hardly use and, according to them only make weather related queries. I know a few people with Echos and from what I’ve seen their experiences are not great and certainly not crazy better than Siri like most of the internet would suggest. dougd said:
    I turn Siri OFF !  No use for this nonsense
    Wow, these Siri articles really bug you. Maybe you really are a bot, as has been suggested. Here’s what you said on the Siri Shortcuts article the other day: “I always turn Siri OFF.  No use for this nonsense” in this thread https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/211467/apples-quiet-update-to-siri-shortcuts-brings-the-niche-tool-into-the-mainstream/p1

    So much for originality. Again I ask, what is your point and how are you adding to the conversation? I think @StrangeDays is correct, you’re just here to be noticed, waving your arms and making noise. And that’s it. Unless you can answer my simple question, which I doubt.
    edited June 10 macpluspluslolliverroundaboutnow
  • Reply 10 of 26
    1348513485 Posts: 47member
    "The received wisdom is that Siri lags behind Amazon Alexa and Google Home, but received wisdom has a problem."

    Late in my day and the caffeine has worn off, but shouldn't that be "perceived", not "received"?
    gregoriusmbeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 11 of 26
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,884member
    Now that I have more HomeKit accessories, I really wish you could use Siri to activate or deactivate with a timer functionality, for one-time events. For example, "Hey Siri, turn off the pool filter in one hour". Or, "turn on the bedroom light at 9:00.
    lolliver
  • Reply 12 of 26
    jdb8167jdb8167 Posts: 136member
    sdw2001 said:
    I rarely if ever use Siri for anything other than dictation.  It's especially terrible at dictation when it goes through bluetooth in the car...a little better when wired.  I do sometimes have it set alarms and reminders, but I find that I have to really know what I'm going to say without pausing, or it screws up.   It's ever been much more than a novelty for me.  
    I've turned off bluetooth hands-free in my car. There doesn't seem to be a way to tell the iPhone to use the iPhone's microphone instead of the horrible one in the car. The microphone in the car does a terrible job with Sirii. With just the iPhone microphone, I get nearly 100% accurate dictation, with the car microphone, it is about 30%.

    My car doesn't do stereo over bluetooth. It has a wired USB connector for high-quality audio so turning off the hands-free isn't much of a problem, I just use the iPhone in a dash mount.
  • Reply 13 of 26
    mike1 said:
    Now that I have more HomeKit accessories, I really wish you could use Siri to activate or deactivate with a timer functionality, for one-time events. For example, "Hey Siri, turn off the pool filter in one hour". Or, "turn on the bedroom light at 9:00.
    Check out this app: Controller for HomeKit by Jan Andre
    https://apps.apple.com/us/app/controller-for-homekit/id1198176727

    I haven’t used it yet but it allows similar commands to what you are looking for (at least, it says so in the description).
    gregoriusmmike1
  • Reply 14 of 26
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 3,979member
    I’d like to see more consistency with Siri. For instance I’ll ask Siri if it’s windy out and one minute Siri will say “No I don’t think it’s that windy. Only about 13 mph.” Other times I’ll ask and Siri says “Yes it does seem to be windy. About 10 mph”. OK which is it?
  • Reply 15 of 26
    13485 said:
    "The received wisdom is that Siri lags behind Amazon Alexa and Google Home, but received wisdom has a problem."

    Late in my day and the caffeine has worn off, but shouldn't that be "perceived", not "received"?
    No, this is actually correct. Although you could use perceived and it would still be correct, it would change the meaning. Received wisdom refers to knowledge that has be handed  down to us from another source. In this case the majority of tech news websites and YouTube reviews. 
    dtb200
  • Reply 16 of 26
    leighrleighr Posts: 181member
    The number one thing Siri needs is apps. Some way to inject knowledge based on your preferences, locality, interests etc. I want to know about local sports, cafes, activities etc. but I don’t expect Apple to be able to curate all of this for me. If knowledge/contents can be made available to Siri based on my preferences, I’d ask her a lot more things.
  • Reply 17 of 26
    How to set up Raise to Speak on Apple Watch. The dramatic arm-flinging pose you have to use is not pictured.

    Now that's funny, right there.  If I'd been drinking anything at the time, I'd need a new keyboard...


    dtb200
  • Reply 18 of 26
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,361member
    I’m not clear why it takes an iOS update to improve Siri - I thought most of the interpretation was done remotely?

    I use Siri occasionally, but to say she’s less than helpful for most things would be generous. If all you want is text-to-speech then she does ok, but that’s not what digital assistants are about. Trivial things like setting a timer work fine. When I ask to play a song, she gets it right most of the time, but is wrong about a third of the time and at times can’t find the song, even though it’s got the same title. Adding reminders or calendar items works halfway, but she invariably adds them to the wrong list or gets a detail wrong.

    If I ask her anything beyond a straight command “Siri, when was the 19th amendment ratified?” the only answer I get is “I found this on the web for...” 

    Another complaint is language - As someone who’s bilingual, I send and receive text messages in 2 different languages. You can change the language Siri uses, but you have to manually go in to settings to do it; you can’t have Siri do it herself, so if I’m driving and receive a message in one language while Siri is set to the other there’s no way to read it without breaking the law and/or compromising safety. Why?

    Essentially, Siri is adequate at performing iOS commands and for anything beyond that is just an audio link to Google. 10-15 years ago that would have been fine, but not today.
    edited June 11
  • Reply 19 of 26
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,884member
    mike1 said:
    Now that I have more HomeKit accessories, I really wish you could use Siri to activate or deactivate with a timer functionality, for one-time events. For example, "Hey Siri, turn off the pool filter in one hour". Or, "turn on the bedroom light at 9:00.
    Check out this app: Controller for HomeKit by Jan Andre
    https://apps.apple.com/us/app/controller-for-homekit/id1198176727

    I haven’t used it yet but it allows similar commands to what you are looking for (at least, it says so in the description).
    Thanks. I'll definitely check it out.
  • Reply 20 of 26
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 914member
    I asked HomePod Siri when the iPhone 6 was introduced yesterday, and it "couldn't do that on HomePod". Mac Siri and iOS Siri spoke the date right away. 

    The "Hey Siri" multi-device activation could be easily solved by saying "Hey Device" instead, for example "Hey iPhone" or "Hey HomePod". I wonder if Apple's original idea (or perhaps their holy grail) was it doesn't matter what device actually responds to the hey Siri command, it'll always respond in the same way. Though that would be as confusing in some instances as it is frustrating now when the wrong one answers. The ability for Siri to play music on an Airplay output you desire lends credence to this, though it hardly ever works properly.

    It's nice that they've improved the (US English) voice, but no one complained about that. People are pissed that the most basic of questions on a "smart" speaker go unanswered. And as others have said, why does the Siri update require a major point update? Apple has once updated the voice between updates, but Siri's repertoire rarely seems to change between updates, only to fix bugs. The upgrades at each point release are pretty small in number and functionality too, which means overall Siri's improving at a glacial rate. 
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