Windows 10 adds Cortana — is it time for Siri on the Mac?

This week Microsoft unveiled big plans at its Windows 10 event, and announced that Cortana — its answer to Siri for Windows Phone — would make its way to the computer, as well. Is it time for Apple to bring Siri to the Mac?

Siri has been a mainstay of iOS since the iPhone 4S was introduced in 2011. It's a natural language interface that makes it possible to talk to your iPhone or iPad device rather than tap on the screen. For a long time you had to hold down the Home button (or Touch ID sensor) on your iOS device to activate it, but starting with iOS 8, Apple introduced a handsfree mode that activates when you say "Hey, Siri" (provided the device is plugged in to a power source).

Siri started out as a fun novelty, but over time it's grown in usefulness. The handsfree mode makes it much easier to interact with the phone when you're doing something else. There's a case to be made for using it while driving, though I don't recommend that drivers do anything that distracts them from driving. I personally use it at home, sometimes to send iMessages, set reminders and alarms, even to change up my music playlist when I'm working out.

But Siri remains mated specifically to my iPhone (and iPad). Thanks to a long history of accessibility enhancements designed to help users with limited mobility, Apple certainly has no shortage of voice control for the Mac — you can use voice dictation to speak instead of typing, and that extends to deep integration with the user interface as well.

Siri is different: It's not just a handsfree voice-based user interface. It's a deep knowledge navigator that can interpret what you're asking and offer contextual responses in more sophisticated ways than you can on the Mac, pulling data from web sites when you ask it questions, interacting with content that's already on your device in meaningful ways.

We've long heard rumors that Apple has tested Siri integration with the Mac; I remember reading about the possibility back when OS X Mavericks was still in development. Whether that's wishful thinking or indicative of a shelved internal Apple project is conjecture at this point, of course.

With OS X Yosemite, Spotlight began offering answers that were Siri-like, but without the voice control features. We also saw one possible way forward: Continuity. Apple's blurred the lines between iOS 8 and OS X by offering tight integration that makes it less important what device you're using, focusing on tasks instead — so you can take and make calls on your Mac if your iPhone is nearby, or open up a Safari web page or continue working on an e-mail on your Mac that you started on your iPad.

These are exciting features, and while Apple hasn't worked out all the kinks, it could pave the way for Siri to be accessible on the Mac even if it's not actually on the Mac.

Another piece of the puzzle concerns an emerging technology that we've been hearing about from Apple since it first took the wraps off at WWDC last year: HomeKit — a development framework created for iOS 8 to help control accessories in the home. There's a huge buzz in the consumer electronics industry about "the Internet of everything:" The idea that soon, all of our devices from thermostats to lights to appliances will be connected and communicating. HomeKit is Apple's attempt to bring some measure of integration between its own products and that technology.

HomeKit is still at a nascent stage, but at this year's Consumer Electronics Show developers working on HomeKit-compatible products demonstrated the ability to remote-control features from outside the house using Siri — provided you have a third-generation Apple TV running at home. Apple TV isn't set up as a home automation hub, and doesn't work with Siri independently, but still acts as a vital link the framework to help this technology work.

Maybe the question isn't whether Siri needs to come to the Mac at all, but just to be accessible regardless of what device you're using. If that's the case, we may be seeing Siri make it to the Mac after all, even if it's not in the way we first thought.

Peter Cohen
28 Comments
  • I've no doubt Apple will bring Siri (or some variation thereof) to the desktop at some point. If Microsoft spurs Apple to do it better, sooner that's a good outcome.
  • It's time for Siri to actually do something.. Don't get me wrong I use Siri but she is good for simple stuff.. Tbh I am little jealous for Cortana but this is the only cool thing in WP.. :)
  • THIS. It wouldn't matter if she was on the Mac if she was nothing but a clone of the iPhone version. She has to do something useful, she has to be proactive, and she has to be completely tied into iCloud and other Apple services and apps. What makes Cortana useful is that she's tied into everything Microsoft. She scours your account, she knows what you search for, she knows everything about you that you give her access to. You can even tell her what types of topics you're interested in reading about, etc. and she will make suggestions. Siri needs to do something similar, as Google Now has been doing just that for Google's users.
  • Agree, Google now and Cortana take siri to school in terms of functionality. Hopefully with IOS 9, Siri will become more comparable to Google Now and Cortana.
  • That's the biggest joke I've heard. Siri blows cortana out of the water in functionality. Cortana is mostly just a nice voice in a lot of areas which hides lack of function. Siri can do complicate math problems, has shazam built in, can reserve tables, get directions, find nearest places, find airplanes flying above the device, read your messages to you, reply to messages, compose messages, teach her how to pronounce names, find trends, control device settings, play music and iTunes radio and more. I have no idea where siri is lacking at all besides some speed and always being able to say hey siri. It's close to Google now and better in some areas like device search.. Google now just commonly get called better because of ok Google command and speed, on top of the fact it's directly connected to Google search engine for optimization.
  • And Cortana does all the things Siri does that you just listed (minus making reservations and planes flying above you) and so much more. The biggest reasons Google Now and Cortana are superior is because they're proactive, they find information before you know you need it. Siri constantly requires that you ask her a question first, you have to initiate something. Meanwhile, Cortana can check my email to see if I have an upcoming flight, she can track news topics I'm interested in, she alerts me to concerts in my area based on artists she's figured out based on the music I listen to, she notices if I go somewhere frequently and see's if I want to save it as a favorite place, she gives me a breakdown of local news based on my location at that moment (without me asking), she recommends restaurants nearby based on meal times, etc. etc. Google Now does this (and lot's more), again, without the user asking. That's the key difference here, that's why Siri just isn't worthwhile for many. You always have to ask her to do something for you, she isn't proactive. Google Now and Cortana just work.
  • I find Google Now to be pretty much useless in the fetching information. In order for it to fetch flight information, you have to tell it your flight information prior to. It won't fetch what it doesn't know beforehand. That's just an example.
  • I just went on a trip, and Google Now automatically pulled all my flight info from my flight confirmation email. You must be doing something wrong...
  • Siri has Shazam built into it.... I've probably tried to get it tell me what song I'm hearing about a dozen times. Siri has yet to tell me a song title. It always says, Hmmmm... I don't know what song that is. Great. Thanks for nothing, again, Siri.
  • Agreed. Siri has not once been able to help me. When Siri fails me, I give Google Now the exact same command, and I get the results I was hoping for. Siri has been around long enough that it should be far more useful than it is.
  • "Is it time for Apple to bring Siri to the Mac?" Not sure yet.
    Is it time for roomfuls of Mac user to all start shouting at their Macs?
  • Not any worse than a room full of iPhone/iPad/Android/Windows Phone users shouting into their phones now, which I've never actually witnessed as most people know when it's appropriate to talk to their phones and when it's not. I can't see Mac's being that much worse than what we already have now.
  • And not any worse than people using Speech Recognition software built into Windows or OS X, or third party offerings like those from Nuance (Dragon Naturally Speaking, etc.). I'm not sure when it became cliche for people to vaguely complain about things people have been doing for over a decade now, just to discredit other companies' innovations. When Siri was first unveiled, she was a killer feature. Now that Apple has been leapfrogged by Google and (now) Microsoft, apparently it's not so killer anymore - just a gimmick. Giving credit where credit is due is good. It will force Apple to improve in ways that matter, and which improve usability - not just changing the look of things and reshuffling features here and there.
  • Google now and Google search demolishes Siri on the iPhone.. Granted it's not integrated into iOS like Siri, it's still the better solution.
  • How? All it does is search. Siri alone does many things Google now can't. 95% of Google now is just a fast dictation Google search. Can't control device settings and options and beyond web search it isn't much. Siri definitely has more features, Google now only ever is said to have won because of speed it responds and ok Google command.
  • "is it time for Siri on the Mac?" Well, duh!
  • I would rather ask: Is it time Siri spoke my language? I have owned Apple devices for years, but have never used Siri, since I cannot, so have no clue as to what it can or cannot do. I hear Google Now is much better, though. I do not use Google products, so I do not know. Perhaps it would be time to try Android?
  • You seem like you have great English. What's the problem? (I am not dismissive of your issue, don't get me wrong.)
  • Doesn't really matter to me if they do or don't. I used Siri a couple of times when it was new and thought that it was neat how it did voice recognition without the training. But I haven't found a use for it. (What's with calling Siri she? It's a program.) I can understand that many people do find it useful and that's great for them. I'm not one of them.
  • Well, if it worked more like Now and Cortana (which go way beyond "talking to your phone" or asking her questions via voice), I think you would use it significantly more. Or not, because you don't actually have to activate or actively use Now or Cortana for them to do their thing. They "just work."
  • That sounds creepy.
  • I'd have more respect for Apple if they actually did something first.
  • Apple issue with Siri is internal which is also delaying and affecting ICloud. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes it is time for apple to bring siri to mac. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I think Apple should improve Siri, let's be honest, Cortana and Google Now single handily beats Siri. It needs to be more integrated with the iOS ecosystem more so than it already is. I love that you can buy and search for apps and the like but it's need more integration that Cortana has and it'll be awesome if Hey Siri was spoken on any screen like Google Now is without it being plugged in a power source. The A7 and A8 for now are more than capable of handling that. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Cortana is still lacking slow and practically beta. Google now is a glorified dictation Google search with a few other features and ok Google command. Siri is definitely more feature packed than both just a tad slower usually 1 second or less and doesnt have voice activation all the time options. Siri is integrated into the whole system too, you can control settings and features with siri. Just as integrated if not more since Google now still can't control a lot of settings and options. And cortana is mostly just popular because of the voice, functionality and features aren't all there yet.
  • Apple needs to improve Siri first before applying it to other platforms. My own personal experience with Siri has been dreadful when it comes to search queries. I asked "How long does it take to charge a Norelco trimmer?" on both Google Now and Siri. Google Now recognized Norelco as a brand name and responded with links to articles giving me my answer in the summary descriptions. Siri, on the other hand, refused to recognize Norelco (it came back with Noel cho!), and even when I manually edited the query it asked "Which charge location do you want to use?" and gave me a couple selections that had NOTHING to do with my query. Seriously, Apple, get your act together with Siri before trying to branch out.
  • Right now I only use Siri to check sports scores and search for places in Maps. Siri will have to get A LOT smarter for me to use in OSX as much as I hate to say it, Google Voice search is on point. When I ask a question, I want an answer. Not a permission request to search the web.