Software

How to maximize using Siri in macOS Sierra

Siri on a Mac is one of those seemingly innocuous features that can change the way you work. Learn tricks for making the most of the macOS Sierra integration.

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Image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic

When I first heard Apple was bringing Siri to the Mac, I didn't believe the enhancement would prove that useful. But, properly wielded, Siri proves to be a surprisingly helpful feature. The trick is to know Siri's desktop and laptop capabilities, as well as the feature's limitations.

Understand Siri's constraints

Don't ask Siri to close an application. She can't—she's not allowed. She'll offer a quick apology, and that's all you get. And, it makes sense—I'm confident Apple precluded the ability for fear of losing unsaved data or accidentally closing an application in the middle of a critical process.

You also shouldn't try using Siri in noisy environments because, odds are, she's not going to be able to understand your commands—and, you'll look a little strange talking in public to your computer. But when you're in the privacy of your office or another quiet location where the audio won't prove disruptive to others, Siri will pause background programming long enough to provide a fair shot at speaking commands.

I don't recommend leveraging Siri to perform complex tasks, such as editing photos, editing spreadsheets or documents, or composing presentations. It's all about possessing accurate expectations.

SEE: Screenshots: A complete roundup of new macOS Sierra features

Follow these tips and tricks for using Siri

Several options exist for summoning Siri. By default, you can press and hold the Command and Space keys. Or, you can click the Siri icon macOS Sierra Places, by default, within the Dock. Or, you can click the Siri icon from the Mac's menu bar. You can also access Siri from the Applications folder or Launchpad.

Open System Preferences and select Siri to customize the keyboard shortcut that summons the feature (Figure A). For example, you can change the Keyboard Shortcut to use the Option and Space keys. You can also adjust the microphone input, specify whether the Siri icon should appear in the menu bar, and enable or disable Siri's voice feedback. Other customization options include changing the voice and language.

Figure A

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Image: Erik Eckel/TechRepublic

With Siri configured and activated according to your preferences, you're ready to put her to work. Ask her to open directories. She'll oblige, including for files stored locally on the Mac or in iCloud. If you wish to view files within iCloud, say "Siri, open the iCloud directory." She will open a Finder window displaying the iCloud Drive.

Ask her to conduct searches. For example, if you need to know which flights service Toledo, say "Siri, search Safari for flights to Toledo."

You can compose and send simple email messages using Siri. Ask her to compose an email message, and she'll begin by asking to whom the message should be sent. After you provide the recipient, Siri requests the subject text, then the body, after which she asks you to confirm you wish to send the message. For quick and easy messages, the feature is surprisingly adept.

Or, if you need to confirm the volatility for GE stock, say "Siri, what's the beta for GE stock?" She'll tell you she can't get "beta," but she will display the stock ticker for GE, which you can then click to obtain the beta (i.e., the measure of an investment's volatility). It's still way quicker than moving the mouse to select and open Safari, moving your hands to the keyboard, typing the keystrokes to spell GE stock beta, pressing the Enter key, returning to the mouse, and clicking the GE stock search result.

You can use additional shortcuts by leveraging Siri to search for documents, open applications, adjust the volume, immediately access System Preferences, and similar common tasks. Siri can also set appointments, create reminders, draft a Note, and create lists.

You can save time using Siri to look up word definitions and synonyms. Just say "Siri, do you know of another word for..." and state the word for which you're seeking a synonym. Or, say "Siri, please show me the definition for..." and speak the name of the word Siri should look up. Siri will promptly open a window presenting the information you seek.

Try Siri in macOS Sierra

The next time you find yourself in a quiet location where you can speak without interrupting others, give Siri a try. I suspect you'll be surprised by how powerful the initially seemingly innocuous assistance proves, even if you must occasionally make adjustments for some expected limitations.

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About Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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