Siri may be one of the iPhone’s best features if you’re looking to waste time or enjoy a bit of humor. But Apple’s digital assistant has always been the most useful iPhone feature if you’re really looking to get something done. That’s going to change with both iOS 10, the upcoming release of Apple’s operating system for the iPhone and iPad, and macOS Sierra, the next version of Apple’s newly-renamed operating system for the Mac.
Siri has been a fun sidekick, but for years, users have been hoping that she’d get a little smarter and a little more useful. Apple is making that wish come true in a big way by finally opening Siri up to third-party developers, by integrating Siri into the Mac, and by making some other big changes that’ll make Siri a much more useful assistant across your Apple devices. Read on to learn about the five new Siri features that will make you want to download iOS 10 and macOS Sierra as soon as they’re released.
1. Tap into third-party apps
Here’s the big news: Apple is finally opening Siri up to developers. There are a few apps that are integrated with Siri already — like Yelp or Twitter — but any developer will be able to plug their services and features right into Siri’s interface. You’ll be able to send a message with Slack or WeChat, book a ride with Uber or Lyft, search your photos with EyeEm, start workouts in Runtastic or RunKeeper, make payments with Venmo or Number26, or make calls with Skype or Viber.
Natasha Lomas reports for TechCrunch that Siri rival Alexa, embedded into Amazon’s Echo speaker, has been open to outside developers for a year. Ben Popper reports for The Verge that Alexa now integrates with 1,000 different third-party services, while Siri has remained a “fairly closed-off service” since its launch. Siri, on the other hand, was launched in 2011 with tight control over app integrations and voice recognition technology with only hit-and-miss accuracy and usefulness. Siri has long been held back by Apple’s reticence to enable the assistant to interface with the wide variety of apps and devices that iOS users own and love. As Re/Code’s Ina Fried notes, it’s still unknown how Siri will decide which app to use when multiple apps are capable of responding, but many developers are eager to integrate their apps with Siri despite the unknowns.
2. Connect to the apps you actually want to use
David Pierce reports for Wired that the upshot of Apple’s opening Siri to third-party developers is that “you’ll be able to connect Siri to the apps you actually use, instead of having to use Apple Maps and Apple Music and Apple Mail and all the other apps stuck into a folder marked by the poop emoji.” That means that you won’t have to opt for iMessage, for instance, when you’d really prefer a different app, but want to take advantage of Siri’s ability to interface with the app.
Benjamin Mayo reports for 9to5Mac that the Siri API will work with six different types of apps to start with: ride-booking apps like Uber, messaging apps, photo search (for photos and videos in a particular app), peer-to-peer payments apps, VoIP calling apps, and workout apps. Apple will handle the recognition and interpretation of voice input, and Siri will determine the user’s intent to decide if a particular query should be handled by Siri or handed off to a third-party app. Additionally, car manufacturers will enable users to adjust the settings in their car through the CarPlay app.
However, it’s worth noting that the way the system is structured leaves many apps shut out. Some major app types not covered by the Siri SDK include music apps, podcast apps, sport statistics apps, email app, and to-do list apps. In future versions of iOS, Apple is likely to expand the app types that can integrate with Siri. But there’s still room for Apple to avoid expanding into areas where it wants its own service to dominate. Mayo notes, for instance, that “An obvious omission from the Siri iOS 10 implementation is third-party integration for media apps like music streaming.” That means that in iOS 10, Apple Music will still be the only way to play audio via Siri.
3. Do more without collecting more user data
Popper reports that one of Siri’s “major weaknesses when compared with similar offerings from Google or Amazon is that it doesn’t have a ton of personal data about its owner to draw on.” Apple’s stance on privacy puts it at a disadvantage when trying to offer its users personalized assistance. But by leveraging third-party services, Popper reports, “Siri can begin to develop a much more robust and nuanced relationship with its master.”
4. Help out on macOS
Another notable piece of news is that Siri is coming to Apple’s newly-renamed macOS this fall. There, the assistant will be able to send messages and find files. To summon Siri, you’ll just have to say, “Hey Siri.” The assistant will work in the background on your Mac, and it can help you perform tasks even when you’re using other apps in full-screen mode. Siri will be able to add things to your calendar, perform research and calculations for you, set reminders, play music, or even search your files.
Siri will be able to search Finder for files created during a specific period on a specific topic, and you’ll be able to refine your search with follow-up questions. As demonstrated by Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, at the WWDC keynote, you can give Siri commands like, “Show me the files I worked on last week about the offsite.” You can even refine the search results with a query like, “Just the ones that Ken sent me that I tagged with ‘draft.'” You’ll be able to click results that Siri surfaces to pin them into the Notification Center, which makes it easy to return to them later.
5. Control your HomeKit devices
Years after it announced its HomeKit smart home platform, Apple unveiled Home, an iOS app that enables you to control your connected devices from your phone, including with Siri voice commands. You can manage and control your devices individually, or group them into “scenes” to trigger a number of different activities with a single command. For instance, you could tell Siri, “Good morning,” and your lights could turn on, your shades could go up, your coffee maker could kick on, and your favorite morning playlist could start playing. Or, tell Siri “Goodnight,” and Home can lock the doors, turn down the heat, turn off the porch light, and close the shades.
Your Apple TV will act as a hub if you want to control your smart home remotely. You can also set up geofences, so that activity either outside or in a specific area of your house will trigger a set of actions. And, speaking of the Apple TV, Siri is gaining more advanced search capabilities on Apple’s set-top box. The assistant will have improved capabilities for searching movies and TV episodes by topic, and she’ll also be able to run voice searches for YouTube videos.