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How to Use Siri on a Mac

Other than the name change, the big news in macOS is that Siri has finally come to the Mac. She—and yes, I’m going with Apple’s gendered pronoun rather than the impersonal it—has been available on iOS for the past five years but this is the first time Mac-only Apple fans will get a look in. 

Siri’s available to every Mac user running macOS 10.11 Sierra. If you have a Mac that you bought more recently than 2009, you can most likely update.

Although Siri has been around on iOS a while, the macOS version is a lot more powerful. She’s integrated far more with the file system. To get you started, in this tutorial I’ll cover the basics of using Siri on a Mac.

Siri Redux

Although there are far more iOS users out there than Mac users, there are still some people with an Apple computer and an Android—or even Windows—smartphone. For them, and the millions of iPhone users who have never really spoken to Siri, let’s start with the very basics. 

Siri is Apple’s personal assistant software. She’s meant to make it easier to do simple tasks like search the web, create reminders, post to Facebook or Twitter, and lots more just by using your voice. 

tweeting with Siri
Sending a tweet with Siri.

The key to Siri’s success is natural language processing. Rather than having to use a specific rigid format to make commands, you can do them just by speaking normally and she should be able to interpret what you’re saying. So, something like, “Make appointment for 11am tomorrow; Brunch,” and “Siri, can you put Brunch in my calendar for 11 tomorrow morning,” get you the same result: a calendar event called “Brunch” for 11am the next day. 

Siri’s natural language processing and ability to understand accents has become a lot better over the last four years. When she first came out, she struggled with my not-particularly-thick Irish accent. Now, there’s obviously been some regionalisation and she has no real issues, as long as I speak clearly. 

Siri isn’t just for American English speakers. She’s now available in 20 languages with a dozen or so regional variations. They are:

  • Arabic,
  • Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin),
  • Danish,
  • Dutch (Belgium and Netherlands),
  • English (Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States),
  • Finnish,
  • French (Belgium, Canada, France and Switzerland),
  • German (Austria, Germany and Switzerland),
  • Hebrew,
  • Italian (Italy and Switzerland),
  • Japanese,
  • Korean,
  • Malay,
  • Norwegian,
  • Portugese,
  • Russian,
  • Spanish (Chile, Mexico, Spain and United States),
  • Swedish,
  • Thai, and
  • Turkish.

Triggering Siri in macOS

When a Mac reboots after installing Sierra, you’ll be prompted to Enable Siri. Leave the checkbox ticked and click Continue to get started. 

By default, Siri is triggered with the keyboard shortcut Option-Spacebar. There is also both a Dock Icon and a Menu Bar Icon you can click.

Siri uses your language and region settings to determine which Siri voice you hear, and what accent she assumes you’re speaking with. 

The American voice used in the ads is only one of the choices available. To change this, and any of the other settings, head to the Siri Preferences Pane in System Preferences.

siri preference pane
The Siri Preference Pane.

To use Siri, press the trigger keyboard shortcut and start talking. It’s best to talk naturally while making sure to enunciate every word clearly. 

Siri is designed to work with natural voices so slowing to a crawl and over-pronouncing every word doesn’t help, but at the same time, she struggles most when you run your words together. 

If you speak like a radio broadcaster or newsreader, she tends to get things right every time.

Searching With Siri

On a Mac, Siri can do everything she does on the iPhone and more. She can still launch apps, post to social media, show you sports scores, search Maps, play music from Apple Music, create events and reminders, search the web, do simple maths, and tell you terrible jokes. 

The biggest addition is her smart control over the file system. You can use commands like:

  • “Show me the files I was working on yesterday.”
  • “What photos did I take last week.”
  • “Did I create any documents last April?”
siri search
All the documents I edited yesterday, found with Siri.

These all open a list of files for you to browse. It’s the best way to quickly perform advanced searches.

A nice twist is that if you click the little + icon, the results get added to the Notification Centre where they’ll update live. This works with all Finder searches as well as sports results.

pinned results
The live results pinned to the Notification Centre.

Siri on macOS is definitely the best version of Siri yet, but there’s still room for improvement. For the time being, she can only really work with information; commands like, “close that tab” or “quit Slack” don’t do anything. 

The only hardware commands available are simple things like “Put my Mac to sleep”, “turn off Bluetooth”, or “What version of macOS am I running?” Adding more hardware control seems like a relatively easy addition for Apple in the near future.

Wrapping Up

Siri is a great addition to macOS. While it’s easy to see why Apple focussed on the iPhone first—voice input is much nicer than a touchscreen keyboard—the extra Mac features make her a lot more useful. The advanced searching alone is a welcome addition. 

While Siri probably isn’t going to radically alter how you use a Mac, her presence in macOS is important. It represents Apple’s continuing effort to bring iOS devices and Macs closer together. With devices like the Apple TV and Apple Watch, voice control is becoming a more important part of their ecosystem. It’s about time the Mac got included.