I'd love a full-on Siri 'voice free' in iOS 10

A Siri that's based on typing rather than talking is something I've had on my wish list for years. iOS 9 got us some of the way there—Spotlight merged, in part, with Siri to provide for better, more contextual search and access to a wealth of useful information. In other words, queries have largely been handled. What's left is the ability to execute commands, and that's why I continue to hope for more in iOS 10.

Siri 'voice free'

Since its debut as part of iOS 5 in 2011, Apple has made incredible progress expanding the company's virtual personal assistant, Siri. It's moved onto our roads with Eyes Free and CarPlay, onto our wrists with Apple Watch, and into our living rooms with Apple TV. It speaks more languages than ever before, including Chinese and Hebrew, and is beginning to handle multi-language queries so you can ask for an English movie in French, for example. Siri can even do Voice ID now, so it can better differentiate your voice from others'.

No matter how enabling and useful Siri is, though, there will be times when it's simply not possible or socially acceptable to talk out loud to our phones or tablets. In those situations, being able to type "Cupertino weather" or even "Text Georgia I'll be late" would be incredibly useful.

iOS 9 made the first one possible. Simply pull down the search box from any Home screen or swipe over to Siri Recommendations on the "minus one" Home screen, type in "cupertino weather", and you get your answer. The second one, however, remains a beautiful dream. Type in "text Georgia I'll be late" and get... some offers to search the Web, App Store, or Maps.

Nature language is powerful. Siri has shown that for voice. The new smarter search has shown that, in part, for text. So has apps like Fantastical (opens in new tab). It lets you add calendar appointments and reminders by merely typing them.

What makes this feature so tantalizing is that Siri can already handle commands input by text. Once you've made a voice query or command, an "edit" button appears. I can say "what's the weather in Cupertino" and Siri will tell me. Then I can tap the "Edit" button, change the text to "Text Georgia I'll be late", and Siri will quickly execute the input-via-text command and prepare the message.

That's what makes it so easy to imagine doing the same absent the first step: pulling down or swiping over into the search box and typing out the command to begin with.

Quick access to quick actions

Multiple points of entry into the Siri system don't increase complexity—they increase accessibility. If you don't want to access Siri via text, keep using voice. Can't use voice? Text is there for you. By making text an option, it opens the full range of Siri functionality to even more people in an even wider range of circumstances.

There are a lots of precedents. Quicksilver, LaunchBar, and Alfred have all offered text-based quick actions on the Mac for years. Just Type from webOS and Type and Go from BlackBerry have tried the same on mobile. Launch Center Pro has even made an icon-driven version work as far as current iOS limitations will allow.

With text-based access to Siri's engine, "Text Georgia I'm be late" is just one example of the type of quick-action that could be efficiently typed out. "Tweet Guy Wow, arrow was bananas!" could instantly send your status to social media. "Meeting with Mikah and Lory at 6 pm tomorrow" could add an event to your calendar.

I realize many people might not find this functionality valuable, especially since, in the years following my first request for it, iOS 9 has gotten us some of the way there. For people for whom typing is second nature, and for anyone with low or no hearing who still wants to tap into full-on Siri, however, it could be invaluable.

Like Notification Center, Control Center, the fast app switcher, or Siri over voice, no one has to access them who doesn't want to. This isn't about adding complexity—it's about increasing accessibility.

An (even) smarter search

There's a lot I'd like to see from Spotlight and Apple's text-based search in general, including and especially how it works on the stores. Nearest-neighbor and automatic search widening are all solved problems. Typing "Twetbot" should return "Tweetbot", just like it does with Google. Typing "Twitter" should absolutely return the most relevant, not just the most character-matching, results as well. It's incomprehensible that, decades after fuzzy/sloppy search became a thing, this still doesn't work on one of the most popular platforms in the world.

Likewise, there's a lot to talk about when it comes to the core Siri technology itself, especially with how it does—and doesn't—interface with the other apps and accessories that are increasingly important in a world where phones are not longer being built as platforms but are now the foundation upon which broader platforms are being built.

I'll save that for a future article, though. For now, iOS 10 is coming, and I'm hoping an even smarter search system, with quick action command support, will come with it. Type "fav" into Siri if you agree. Type "retweet" if you don't.

I've submitted this feature request to Apple: rdar://26213732.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Sooooo...., Cortana?
  • nope.. textual responce has been around for longer than voice.. Microsoft just turned that on.. Technically, Siri does this already. You can edit text it interprets after you speak .. then tell it to process.. he just wants them to take it all the way.. They've had the ability from go when it was released.. /shrug
  • So....., like Cortana.
  • Yeah, but better. And not sexist.
  • Cortana is sexist? whaaa? where? I want to see. Link pls.
  • So much yes to this wish list item! It's not appropriate to be talking to our phone at work, for example, but that doesn't mean I don't want to use Siri!
  • Oh God yes. I just... don't like talking to my phone. I'd get a lot more out of Siri if I didn't have to talk to her.
  • Microsoft's Cortana has had this feature from the start. I would use Siri SO MUCH MORE if I could type commands rather than speak them.
  • Exactly :).
  • The wearher in spotlight doesn't work in my country! Not worthy of Apple's attention i guess... Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes...make it like Cortana and Google Now! Sent from the iMore App
  • If you aren't in a place where you can talk out loud to your phone, or the ambient sound is too loud to hear Siri talking back, just trigger Siri then bring the phone to your ear like you're taking a regular voice call. Siri will talk to you through the earpiece and you can talk to it just like you'd talk to a human. Typing is so last-century :)
  • This definitely seems possible with the way the industry is moving with chat bots. Siri has the potential to become a useful chat bot... But there is going to be a lot of competition with Facebook. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why would one text Siri to tell someone they'll be late when they could just text that person themselves?
  • Maybe one is at work or home and doesn't want one's fellow workers or family to hear NSFW texts or private information.
  • Texting solves that....no voice required...
  • On my iPad, if I could press cmd-space, type, "Tell my wife I'll be 15 minutes late", it would be a lot easier than opening messages, tapping a thread I have open with my wife and then typing in the message. I guess on the phone, I could just pull down on the home screen and type the message.
  • Apple has to learn so mich from Google. I had the iPhone since 3gs and sometimes I bought a used Android to play around with but Android grew so much better and Google now looks like lightyears away. I just need to check and I can see where my package is or when I have to leave for an appointment. See my parking location of my car.
  • Did you read about the massive gmail email hacks last week? Millions of passwords to accounts stolen and sold over the dark web. Google Now is great but you might not be the only one who knows when your package arrives or where your car is parked. Sure Apple servers could be hacked and accounts spoofed but there just isn't as much private info to steal from Apple as there is from Google and their advertisers.
  • Are you talking about the Mail.ru hack? In that Gmail was not hacked per se, but the accounts of the users who used the same passwords on Gmail/Outlook/Yahoo as their Mail.ru accounts' passwords were compromised.
    This goes to show you should never use the same password for 2 different services. Especially not for something like your personal email ID.
  • BlackBerry 10 had this and it is fantastic. I wish Apple would implement this on iOS.
  • This is by far the worse article ever!!!!! I don't understand why you wouldn't just type those request where you would normally, the whole purpose is a virtual assistant that handles small task so you don't have to type...
  • Having the option to choose would be nice. I love the Windows system with Cortana. It gives me options to tailor the service to what works for me. I have Cortana on my 7 plus because it gives me this option.
  • I would love a sharing extension to set a reminder to a Note or a text message. Like Rene says, a lot of the time I'm at work and it's too noisy to speak to Siri.
  • I would like to use Siri without an Internet connection! Aka localized Siri!
  • I really want that. I can't use Siri because I Deaf so text version will useful. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'd want a fine-tuning of iOS and removing inconsistencies between iPhone and iPad.
    - A calculator and weather app for iPad;
    - Better landscape support for iPhone (maybe even force it to third-party apps as well e.g. YouTube which is annoying on iPhone: watch a video in landscape and use the rest of the app in portrait and search using the cramped portrait keyboard and then switch back to landscape again to watch the next video);
    - Ability to turn off beeping when dialling a number just like it is possible for keyboard clicks;
    - Ability to simply set any song as a ringtone;
    - Customisable Control Center;
    - Split screen for iPhone (at least the bigger ones);
    - An icon in status bar showing that the phone is muted;
    - Better iCloud Drive app (there is a lot of room for improvement);
    - Predictive keyboard for more languages.
  • Thank you. This made my day. I'm new to iPhone. Mentioning this as a suggestion when I'm a novice navigating the phone risked me looking stupid if there was a way I missed and arrogant to boot. Please, yes. I hate talking to gizmos. Hated it in the pre-personal computer days with dictaphones, and hate it now. I'm a writer, and I prefer to interact through writing.
  • Same for Siri on the Mac would be great. I, like most people, work at an office with other people and I can't be talking to Siri all the time