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30 Days With: Siri

30 Days With: Siri

    Editor’s note: This is a featured post in our ongoing series “30 Days With” which outlines the use of a productivity tool, service, or product that we have used for the past 30 days. We want to provide our readers with an in depth view of tools and products that they are interested in and provide them our thoughts as well as ways to use these products faster and better. Enjoy.

    This is the tale of a 2 hour a day commuter, 8 hour a day Fortune 500 company employee, and part time Lifehack editor living in the USA using Siri over the last 30 days. Enjoy.

    It’s hard to believe that the iPhone 4S has already been out for a month. In this small amount of time we’ve seen iPhone 4S battery issues come and go, Siri outages, and data usage problems (that may not really be problems). But, just like every year, the iPhone proves to be one of the best selling smart phones of all time. It isn’t really surprising, is it?

    It’s funny just how important Siri has become in my life in the last 30 days. Being an old Android user, I was privy to the idea of interacting with my phone by voice using Google’s Voice Actions. Google Voice Actions worked well but for some reason my use of them never stuck.

    But Siri isn’t just about commanding your phone to do things. It’s about interacting with your phone in a way that Google Voice Actions (or any product for that matter) never brought to the mainstream. Not only does Siri provide the user with a way to interact with one’s device like never before, “she’s” also a tad snarky and has an attitude of “her” own.

    This is the “special sauce” that Apple adds to their products. The way to make them more human.

    Yes, voice interaction existed with phones before Siri came, and yes, Google did a hell of a job with making voice work with a smartphone. But, Apple is the company that brings “outlying” technologies to the mainstream by making them approachable by humans.

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    The Good

    When I saw the demo of Siri during the iPhone 4S announcement I was super excited. Mostly because I am an Apple fanboy, but also because I am a geek and could see myself using voice to interact with my phone to get things done faster and better. But, deep down, I was scared that Siri wouldn’t be as good as it looked. I was afraid that the attractive man running next to the river effortlessly changing his meeting appointments with his voice through Apple headphones was fake. I mean, whose Apple headphones stay in their ears while running anyways?

    But my biggest fear was that this “personal assistant” was going to be a digital interface that only worked if I learned the perfect voice syntax to interact with it.

    This is delightfully not the case.

    Out-of-the-box

        I started doing the normal things first like sending text messages, scheduling appointments, reading text messages, sending emails, checking the weather, seeing how many calories were in a bagel; normal queries and actions to see how well Siri worked.

        I would say 95% of the time, Siri was spot on. It transcribed my text messages and emails, added appointments correctly to my calendar (even repeating appointments), created new reminders that nagged me when I got home, played songs from my music library, etc. Siri was so good at first, that it threw me for a loop when she would mess things up like what text note to append something to or the name of the artist that I was giving her to play.

        Because of how well Siri worked “out of the box”, I quickly changed my habits and workflows that I have had with my smartphones for the past 3 years.

        Outsourcing with Siri

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          Here are the following things that I now outsource to Siri at least 90% of the time:

          • Appointment creation with the calendar
          • Quick reminders and time specific things that I need to remember (I use to put all of this in OmniFocus)
          • Calling people
          • Checking the weather

          And here are the things that I outsource while driving or at home (not in front of co-workers)

          • Everything from above
          • Sending text and reading messages
          • Sending emails
          • Making notes
          • Sending tasks to my OmniFocus inbox (with the “hack” I detailed in our last Siri post)
          • Playing music
          • Searching things (as long as I don’t have to dive into Mobile Safari to get it done)

          On productivity

          Siri is a joy to use. When we talk about being and staying productive here at Lifehack, we all have this idea of staying in the flow of what we are currently working and concentrating on, allowing us to be in a productive state. Siri allows me to do that. Once the following three things happen, Siri will allow for people to stay in this state more of the time:

          1. Apple opens the doors to Siri for developers (which may be a good or bad idea depending on how Apple and developers identify their roles)
          2. “Normal” people accept the idea of people around them interacting with their devices, telling them what to do.
          3. The Siri service covers more ground and is more selective in the ways that it requires a data connection.

          We will be able to use a “digital assistant” that allows us to keep thoughts at bay while we work and use other apps that we need to use with little resistance. Siri can then become a major part of one’s workflow. This is what Apple has planned for Siri in the future and once it becomes more “acceptable” in public to talk to our devices, this type of use of Siri will be a reality.

          The Bad

          You’d think from reading above that Siri is a bed of roses and that Apple is the king of everything in the world. Well, that’s sort of true. But, I did have some issues with Siri, some of them have still yet to be resolved.

          Server outages

          The biggest complaint that I have regarding Siri is that even if you do the simplest of actions (like calling a contact) you have to make a data call to Apple’s servers. It makes sense to do this sort of call for intense queries that require some backend processing like that of transcription and dictation or for queries that require some sort of call over the network (Wolfram Alpha search), but for doing simple things that are native to the iPhone it seems unnecessary.

          The idea of making a data call for every Siri query isn’t entirely noticeable until the Siri service is down, which over the past 30 days I have experienced 2 times. I’m not talking about down for one query and then back up, I’m talking about Siri being down for several hours at a time.

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          When I wanted to send a SMS to my wife on the way home from work the other day, I got the typical “I’m having trouble connecting to the network” message. Some consumers may think that this means that the network is down, not that the Siri network is down. This is a truly frustrating thing and for all the times that I had used the Google Voice Actions on Android, the only time I couldn’t access that service is when I couldn’t get a network connection to my data provider.

          Apple needs to rethink the way that it uses (and requires) access to the a data network and the Siri network to utilize Siri.

          Where am I?

          Another bad thing about Siri is how it doesn’t completely support different places around the world. Lifehack’s editor, Mike Vardy, can’t use Siri for location based queries in Canada. Siri just doesn’t know where Canda is right now. This may be fixed sometime in 2012.

          I’m not entirely sure how Siri is working in other parts of the world, but when it first launched, location data was seriously lacking. If Apple expects Siri to truly take over, how can it if it doesn’t know where the closest Pizzeria is?

          Features lacking

          Something else that seems obvious that Siri should do is have the ability to change settings on my iPhone. Things like “Siri, turn off WiFi” or “turn on airplane mode” simply don’t work (good thing about the airplane mode though, you couldn’t turn it off without your network connection!).

              Some other oddities that Siri faces is that searching the web can be lacking and inconsistent. I like how you can get a locksmith or find local escort services easily through Yelp! but searching for something like “where was the Lord of the Rings filmed” sometimes brings back a Siri provided search result (that is the search result inside of the Siri app) while other times gives you the option to search the web. It seems that Apple is still trying to figure out how to make sure that the search results that Siri will present are correct and the best.

              This is definitely a natural language and processing issue. Apple probably thinks that rather than incorrectly presenting the correct, best results, users should be suggested to search the web through Mobile Safari. This way they can make up their own mind which is the correct, best answer.

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              When Siri finds things and is certain of what she is presenting it amazes me. But, when I search for something that I think should just work rather than take me into Mobile Safari it starts to reduce the “amazingness” of Siri.

              Once again; it’s beta right?

              In conclusion

              My 30 days with Siri has been excellent even with the slight snafus of Siri being down and general feature issues (both of which will get better over time). Like I said above, I now “outsource” a decent amount of what I do with my phone to Siri. And as the Siri service becomes stronger and more ubiquitous, you better believe that I will use it more and more.

              I think that Siri is revolutionary yet has its flaws. When I can raise my phone to my face and simply say, “remind me to take out the trash before I leave home” and have my phone alert me when I’m leaving my house to take out the trash, it makes me feel like I’m living in a dream world. But when I do the same action and Siri says, “Christopher I cannot connect to the network”, I’m reminded that there is still work to be done.

              Siri, is by far the best voice recognition and natural language software that I have ever used. No matter what happens, Siri will continue to get better and smarter allowing us to be more productive with our iOS devices.

              Note: Apple has done such a good job of giving a Siri a persona that many times throughout this article I will refer to Siri as ‘her’ or ‘she’. Thanks for making me think my phone is a person, Apple.

              More by this author

              CM Smith

              A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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              Last Updated on December 13, 2019

              7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

              7 Steps For Making a New Year’s Resolution and Keeping It

              Are you keen to reinvent yourself this year? Or at least use the new year as a long overdue excuse to get rid of bad habits or pick up new ones?

              Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when we feel as if we have to turn over a new leaf. The time when we misguidedly imagine that the arrival of a new year will magically provide the catalyst, motivation and persistence we need to reinvent ourselves.

              Traditionally, New Year’s Day is styled as the ideal time to kick start a new phase in your life and the time when you must make your all important new year’s resolution. Unfortunately, the beginning of the year is also one of the worst times to make a major change in your habits because it’s often a relatively stressful time, right in the middle of the party and vacation season.

              Don’t set yourself up for failure this year by vowing to make huge changes that will be hard to keep. Instead follow these seven steps for successfully making a new year’s resolution you can stick to for good.

              1. Just Pick One Thing

              If you want to change your life or your lifestyle don’t try to change the whole thing at once. It won’t work. Instead pick one area of your life to change to begin with.

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              Make it something concrete so you know exactly what change you’re planning to make. If you’re successful with the first change you can go ahead and make another change after a month or so. By making small changes one after the other, you still have the chance to be a whole new you at the end of the year and it’s a much more realistic way of doing it.

              Don’t pick a New Year’s resolution that’s bound to fail either, like running a marathon if you’re 40lbs overweight and get out of breath walking upstairs. If that’s the case resolve to walk every day. When you’ve got that habit down pat you can graduate to running in short bursts, constant running by March or April and a marathon at the end of the year. What’s the one habit you most want to change?

              2. Plan Ahead

              To ensure success you need to research the change you’re making and plan ahead so you have the resources available when you need them. Here are a few things you should do to prepare and get all the systems in place ready to make your change.

              Read up on it – Go to the library and get books on the subject. Whether it’s quitting smoking, taking up running or yoga or becoming vegan there are books to help you prepare for it. Or use the Internet. If you do enough research you should even be looking forward to making the change.

              Plan for success – Get everything ready so things will run smoothly. If you’re taking up running make sure you have the trainers, clothes, hat, glasses, ipod loaded with energetic sounds at the ready. Then there can be no excuses.

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              3. Anticipate Problems

              There will be problems so make a list of what they’ll be. If you think about it, you’ll be able to anticipate problems at certain times of the day, with specific people or in special situations. Once you’ve identified the times that will probably be hard work out ways to cope with them when they inevitably crop up.

              4. Pick a Start Date

              You don’t have to make these changes on New Year’s Day. That’s the conventional wisdom, but if you truly want to make changes then pick a day when you know you’ll be well-rested, enthusiastic and surrounded by positive people. I’ll be waiting until my kids go back to school in February.

              Sometimes picking a date doesn’t work. It’s better to wait until your whole mind and body are fully ready to take on the challenge. You’ll know when it is when the time comes.

              5. Go for It

              On the big day go for it 100%. Make a commitment and write it down on a card. You just need one short phrase you can carry in your wallet. Or keep it in your car, by your bed and on your bathroom mirror too for an extra dose of positive reinforcement.

              Your commitment card will say something like:

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              • I enjoy a clean, smoke-free life.
              • I stay calm and in control even under times of stress.
              • I’m committed to learning how to run my own business.
              • I meditate daily.

              6. Accept Failure

              If you do fail and sneak a cigarette, miss a walk or shout at the kids one morning don’t hate yourself for it. Make a note of the triggers that caused this set back and vow to learn a lesson from them.

              If you know that alcohol makes you crave cigarettes and oversleep the next day cut back on it. If you know the morning rush before school makes you shout then get up earlier or prepare things the night before to make it easier on you.

              Perseverance is the key to success. Try again, keep trying and you will succeed.

              7. Plan Rewards

              Small rewards are great encouragement to keep you going during the hardest first days. After that you can probably reward yourself once a week with a magazine, a long-distance call to a supportive friend, a siesta, a trip to the movies or whatever makes you tick.

              Later you can change the rewards to monthly and then at the end of the year you can pick an anniversary reward. Something that you’ll look forward to. You deserve it and you’ll have earned it.

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              Whatever your plans and goals are for this year, I’d do wish you luck with them but remember, it’s your life and you make your own luck.

              Decide what you want to do this year, plan how to get it and go for it. I’ll definitely be cheering you on.

              Are you planning to make a New Year’s resolution? What is it and is it something you’ve tried to do before or something new? Why not pick one from this list: 50 New Year’s Resolution Ideas And How To Achieve Each Of Them

              Featured photo credit: Ian Schneider via unsplash.com

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