PHYDL #001: iPhone Tips – Using Siri

In this show, we bring you tips on getting Siri to make using your smartphone less work. From a faster way to make a phone call to sending text messages easier to making quick and easy appointments and reminders, Chris Gardner shows you simple ways to get the most out of your iPhone and get it working smarter/harder for you. And don’t bother to take notes, members can view, download and print our exclusive tip sheet – see the link below.

In this series, Your Tech Coach gives you practical and helpful tips, hints and advice on how to get the most out of the consumer technology you already own. Geek-free help for everyone on the most common problems we all have using our computers, tablets, smartphones, smart appliances, digital devices, online services, social networking and more. Let Your Tech Coach help you get your technology working for you, not the other way around!

pdfdownloadClick this link to view, download or print our tip sheet for this show: PHYDL #001: iPhone Tips – Using Siri (Adobe PDF)

Here’s a really common problem for which a lot of people need a better answer. Y’know, these smartphones are so smart, but why is it so darn much work to make a phone call? You have to press, swipe, tap in your lock code, then tap a few times to get to the dialing keypad. That’s way more work than you had to do with older ‘dumb phones’. So here’s how to get your smartphone to do more of that work!

siri-1Digital Minute #388 in the show outlines how to use Siri for making phone calls:

  1. Press and hold the home button till you hear a tone (aka [activate Siri])
  2. speak slowly and clearly, such as “Call 855-767-4835”
  3. Siri will dial the number and connect you

You can also use the name of anyone in your contacts, and any phone number. Use the descriptor in the contact’s phone number, such as home, mobile, or work.

  1. [activate Siri]) Speak slowly and clearly, such as “Call Chris Gardner mobile”
  2. Siri will dial the number and connect you


The Voice Command feature has been on iPhones for quite awhile, but not till the iPhone 4s did you get Siri. And if you have an iPhone 5, you have an even smarter Siri. October 2013 update: with the new iPhone 5c & 5s, Siri has finally come out of ‘beta’ and is pretty rock-solid-but still takes a bit of getting used to. But even the old voice command feature on older iPhones works reasonably well as long as you follow a few simple rules, and these apply to the latest Siri as well.

First, speak clearly and without hesitation. That means you need to think about what you’re gonna say before you say it to Siri. Second, Siri doesn’t understand all the possible ways you could phrase a command, – so you need to say it the way she needs to hear it. For example, when making phone calls, I’ve found that Siri better understands the word mobile instead of cell or cellphone, maybe she’s British? So if I’m calling my fellow coach, I’ll say to Siri: Call Pam Willenz mobile. Siri starts the call just fine every time, even if there’s background noise.

Second, Siri can have trouble with people’s names, especially if they’re not phonetically spelled. So instead of the person’s name, you can use their relationship to you, if you set that up in advance. More on that in a minute.

And third, working with Siri can be frustrating if you don’t use the commands that work best with her. I’ve got examples of my favorites coming up.

Now Siri can do lots more than just start phone calls for you. You might have seen one of the commercials Apple’s put out showing someone famous using Siri. While she can do a lot of things, I think it’s more practical to focus just on the few things that you do often. Here’s my short list of common stuff I get Siri to do for me:


I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty forgetful. So I get Siri to remind me about stuff. Here’s an example:

  • [activate Siri] Set a reminder for 6pm today to stop and pickup dinner on the way home from work [Siri responds] YES [Siri responds]

Notice I didn’t even have to turn on the iPhone and tap in my lock code, Siri can make phone calls, set reminders and a few other things without that. – I also like to use Siri to send text messages – here’s what I do:

  • [activate Siri] Send a text message to my son, saying hey bud comma I’m going to be late picking you up from baseball practice period please wait inside the dugout and I’ll text you when I hit the parking lot comma in about numeral five minutes period [Siri responds] Yes [Siri responds]

Now if I made a mistake and want to re-do the message, instead I’d have said the command “Change” instead of Yes. If I just said No, that’s more ambiguous, and she’d take longer to ask me what I wanted to do. Like I said, clear commands work well, and if you want punctuation, you have to include that.

Did you notice on the texting command that I didn’t use my son’s name?


Earlier I said you can use relationships instead of names. That makes things easier for Siri, and for you. It takes a little advance work on your part to teach Siri who your peeps are. Here’s what you do:

You probably know who you deal with all the time, so tell Siri who they are to you. Awhile ago, I told Siri, “My Son is CJ Gardner” – and so from then on, she knows this, and I can use the word ‘son’ in place of his name. Practical, huh? This works with darn near anything you can say to define a relationship, not just family. It’s a long list that includes mother-in-law, boss or manager, wife, brother, cousin, and even friend. So for example, I told Siri “My friend is Adam Sterner” and now I can tell Siri “Send a text message to my friend Adam” and she gets it right every time. Now if I had two friends both named ‘Adam’, she’d ask me which one – so I’d say ‘…my friend Adam Sterner’. Each relationship you setup must have a contact entry in your iPhone somewhere, and you must have told Siri which contact entry is your own as well-that’s done on the iPhone in Settings>General>Siri>My info. Just a one-time choice as part of your iPhone setup…

Doing this in advance really makes it faster, easier and more natural to use Siri.


There are a ton of examples of other commands you can give Siri on the Apple website, as well as a nice list we’ve seen from our friends at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, and one from our friends at Idoono. Just pick a half-dozen or so things you do all the time, and start using Siri instead of tapping and swiping on your iPhone. Remember my tips on how to talk to Siri and this will save you tons of time without frustration. And don’t forget to wait for Siri to beep at you before you start talking – and listen for that 2nd beep which signals you that she’s stopped listening.

iphonedictationLastly, Besides using Siri, the latest iPhones also have a little microphone icon on the keyboard so that you can dictate – instead of typing on the teensy keyboard. I like to use this for email and text messages, it’s a lot faster than the keyboard. Again, think about what you’re going to say and then say it. You can start and stop the dictation by tapping the button, so you can dictate, say a sentence at a time, although dictation doesn’t stop listening to you like Siri does. I think she tries too hard!

So there are 2 different ways to talk to your iPhone. The first way is using Siri, by pressing and holding down the Home button. The second way is to dictate anytime you see a keyboard – just press the little microphone icon. I’ve found that saying a sentence at a time and starting and stopping the dictation in-between works well for me. Go ahead and give these a try now if you like!

Ok, if you tried and it didn’t work well, you may want to spend just a few minutes practicing – that’s what I did, and it makes all the difference. And remember to avoid hesitating when commanding Siri, she might stop listening. If you hesitate when dictating, that’s no problem, but Siri is different – she’s trying to anticipate what you want.

In case you missed hearing this in the video, Siri makes three beeps to cue you. Her first sound means “I’m listening”. Her second sound means “I heard you”. Her third sound means “I heard nothing”. So between the time you hear the first sound and either of the other two, she’s listening. But once you hear one of the others, don’t bother to keep talking because she’s not listening.

When you are dictating or talking to Siri, the latest Phone has awesome noise cancellation! I’ve used Siri in the car – while parked of course – and with the radio on, and she still understands me perfectly. I’ve used her outside on a windy day and with cars whizzing by, and even in a noisy mall – she rarely misses. But you’ll waste your breath to speak to her if she’s not listening. Kind of like when my son has his earbuds in, – he can’t hear me at all!

So your final takeaway, Siri can be a real time-saver for stuff you do every day on your iPhone, – just get to know her a little bit!

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