Although the iPhone 4S sports a faster processor and an upgraded camera, the feature that everyone is talking about is Siri. Siri allows you to speak a variety of commands to your device and have it do your bidding. In addition, the iPhone 4S includes voice-control technology that makes it possible to compose emails, text messages, and more through dictation—no more typing on the phone’s tiny touchscreen keyboard.
Both Siri and the iPhone 4S’s voice-dictation software work by recording your voice and beaming it to a server to interpret what you’ve said; as such, you will need an Internet connection (either Wi-Fi or 3G) to use either feature properly. Siri currently only supports the following languages: English (in United States, United Kingdom, and Australian dialects), French, and German.
How To Use SIRI and Dictation
Getting Started Once you’ve enabled Siri from Settings -> General -> Siri, you can give it a command at any point by pressing and holding on the Home button (or, if you’re using a wired or wireless headset, press and hold the corresponding button on the remote). If you have the Raise To Speak toggle switched on in the Siri Settings screen, you can also hold the phone up to your head as if you were making a call.
Siri will chirp twice in succession to indicate that it’s ready to listen to you. If you’re not sure what kind of question or request to make, tap the info button (i) on the right side next to bring up a list of suggested topics and phrasings.
You can talk to Siri as you would talk to another person: It has natural language recognition. But Siri doesn’t require a strict vocabulary—if talk like Yoda you try, it will generally figure out what you’re trying to say.
How to use Siri with Apps, Siri can interact with most of Apple’s built-in apps: Phone, Music, Messages, Calendar, Reminders, Maps and Directions (in the United States only), Mail, Weather, Stocks, Clock, Address Book, Find My Friends, Safari (Web search), and Notes. You can give Siri commands for most every action within one of those apps; for instance, you can ask it “Where’s Jason Snell?”, and (assuming you’re logged into Find My Friends, and have Jason added as a contact there) it will display his current location.
Siri can also understand the context of conversations. Ask Siri for suggestions for places to have lunch, and it provides a list of nearby restaurants that serve lunch. You can then specify that you want to eat in a certain location, say, downtown, and Siri gives you a narrower list of places in that area.
Siri is also linked with Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine that provides answers to numerous factual questions. If you want to figure out the speed of light or the number of days until Christmas, Wolfram Alpha can provide the answer. If Siri cannot accomplish or understand what you ask, it will offer to perform a Web search for you.
Once you give Siri a command, the service sends it to a central server for analyzation and returns it as a plain text speech bubble, with your phrase in quotes. If you tell Siri to do something and it mis-hears you—for instance, if you state “Make me a reminder” in a noisy bar, and Siri translates that into “Maine Maryland”—you can correct it by tapping once on that bubble and typing in the correct words.
In addition to Siri’s basic commands, Apple’s voice assistant has a few quirks and easter eggs hiding about. Ask it to tell you a story, mention famous fictional robots, or bring up the meaning of life, and you might get an unusual response.
Hands-Free Use With Siri, you can now use your phone in hands-free scenarios, such as when you are driving a car. Siri becomes more chatty when the iPhone 4S recognizes that you’re in a hands-free situation, reading text aloud that it might not if it knew you were holding the phone in your hand. When you get a text message, you can instruct Siri to read the message, and it will. You can then tell Siri to reply to the message, dictate the entire message, have Siri read it back to you to confirm that it makes sense, and then send it.
There are some caveats to hands-free use: Siri can tell you that you have a new email message, and you can use it to send emails, but it doesn’t read your emails to you. (It only reads text messages aloud.)
Dictation While Siri gets the bulk of the iPhone 4S feature hype, another speech-related technology may prove to be more important and a bigger boost to users’ productivity: Dictation. The iPhone 4S can convert what you say into written text in any app.
On your iPhone’s virtual keyboard is a new button in the bottom row with the image of a microphone on it, to the left of the spacebar. Tap this button and the iPhone 4S transcribes whatever you say. It sends the results over the Internet to a server that analyzes your speech and converts it into text (if you’re not online, the microphone button doesn’t appear).
To get the most out of Dictation, you need to start thinking in punctuation. For example, to construct a grammatically correct email message, you might say, “Dan comma new paragraph What do you think about writing a review of iOS numeral five question mark I think it might be right up your alley period new paragraph Let me know what you think exclamation point.” The feature understands when you are requesting punctuation or a new paragraph, and translates that into the text. You can dictate text messages, email messages, entries in the Notes app, Web searches, and more. Unlike Siri, Dictation works in third-party apps, so you can dictate Facebook status updates, tweets, or Instagram captions just by choosing the microphone icon from the keyboard and speaking.