My day with Siri

I admit it: I love Siri. It helps that I work from home, so I can talk to my phone without inhibitions. It doesn't hurt that I generally crave pseudohuman contact. But the real reason is simply that I find Siri so useful. And in iOS 6, Siri has become even more useful than it was before.

The iOS virtual assistant has learned to respond accurately to a variety of new instructions. You can now use Siri to get information about movies, sports, restaurant reviews, and reservations, in addition to testing its know-how regarding weather, stocks, and the like. You can also use Siri to post to Facebook and Twitter, launch apps, and get directions--and that's all in addition to its ability to set timers, send messages, perform searches, and more.

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I now find myself using Siri throughout the day, for a wide variety of tasks and queries. Here's how one such day might go.

Morning routines

First thing in the morning, I wake up to one of my kids clomping into my room. Siri can't help with that. But when it's time to figure out what to wear, I generally ask Siri two questions. "What's today's forecast?" (or some variation) comes first. (You can phrase that question and many other comments almost any way you want, and Siri will understand; you don't have to memorize one specific way to phrase a question.)

Once I know how warmly to dress that day, I find out what kinds of clothes I should put on. The key factor is whether it's a normal working-from-home day or a day when I might actually interact with other human beings. So I say, "Show me today." That instructs Siri to present a list of all the events on my calendar for the day.

Armed with that intel, I'm off to shave and shower. Inevitably, at some point--often during the toothbrushing portion of my ablutions--I'll remember something I forgot to do the night before. So I once again turn to Siri: "Remind me to put the DVD in the mailbox at 8 a.m."

The workday begins

It's rare that a workday of mine gets under way without a reminder or two from the night before beeping on my Mac and iOS devices, something like "Write the Siri story"--almost undoubtedly a reminder I set via Siri.

While colleagues formally schedule most of our office meetings in our shared calendaring system, someone occasionally sends out an email instead. Even though Fantastical is in my menu bar and Calendar sits patiently in my Dock, I often turn to Siri for help instead: "Put 'Call with Dan' on my calendar for 1 p.m. Pacific Time today."

As I research stories throughout the day, I rely on Siri to place important phone calls, too. Sometimes I just say "Call" followed by the actual digits; if it's a contact in my address book, I might instead say "Call Apple PR."

Come lunchtime, if I'm cooking, I time it via Siri: "Set a timer for 12 minutes." (Note that Reminders works great with relative times, too; you can say "Remind me to check the oven in 12 minutes," if that's more your style.) Sometimes, during lunch, I'll think to call my sister in Israel. But since I never remember the time difference, I tend to ask my best friend: "Siri, what time is it in Jerusalem?"

Siri knows

Thanks to iOS 6, I can use Siri to satisfy other burning questions at lunch now, too. "When do the Eagles play next?" When Siri answers, I can then use it to compare the starting quarterbacks' stats, by asking about each one in turn.

This week the Eagles play the Arizona Cardinals, with former Eagles backup Kevin Kolb taking the start for the Cardinals at quarterback. I couldn't get Siri to understand me when I tried to say Kolb's last name, so I used a clunky but functional workaround. First I asked about the Cardinals' roster: "What's the Arizona Cardinals' starting lineup?" When I confirmed that Kolb wore number 4, I asked Siri, "Who wears number 4 for the Arizona Cardinals?" That brought up the stats I was after. You can get even more creative with your questioning when Siri can't parse a name properly: "Who's taller, Arizona Cardinals quarterback number 4 or Eagles quarterback Michael Vick?" (It's Kolb by 3 inches.)

The fact that Siri struggles with less-common names can become problematic, not just for sports queries, but for movies too. Generally Siri will perform capably in understanding names that belong to the people in your address book. But when it comes to athletes and movie stars, Siri fares far better with "Tom Brady" than "Nnamdi Asomugha."

I try to schedule any outside appointments for around the lunch hour, too. When I have one to attend, I rely on Siri to get me there. It's impressively good at parsing addresses: "Give me directions to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C." will get me to the White House. And I can always return home again with a simple "Take me home" request. If I'll be back unexpectedly late, I can iMessage my coworkers with Siri, too: "iMessage Dan Moren that I'll be back in another 20 minutes." New in iOS 6, Siri is much less strict about how precisely to phrase such instructions; it was far pickier in iOS 5, requiring more cue words.

The dinner hour

As dinner approaches, most nights, my wife tells me what she has cooked for that evening. Sometimes she comes into my office and says: "We're going out for dinner tonight." That's when I turn to Siri, which in iOS 6 lets you get amusingly specific: "What are the best kid-friendly Italian restaurants within 5 miles?"

In central New Jersey, where I live, Siri knows plenty about some restaurants, little about others, and nothing at all about a few too many. If we lived somewhere more metropolitan, I probably could use Siri to make reservations, but out here very few restaurants support OpenTable. You can find some of your nearby options with a phrase like: "Where can I get a reservation for five people tonight at 6 p.m.?" Siri will then gather what it can from Yelp; if that service covers your area well, you'll be in relatively good shape. But if it doesn't, Siri can't compensate for that subpar data.

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