The essential guide to using Siri on a Sierra Mac

Everything you’ll need to use Siri on your Mac

Apple, WWDC, OS X, macOS, Sierra, Siri, Mac
Credit: Apple

Scheduled to ship in Fall with a public beta next month, macOS Sierra brings numerous improvements, with Siri making its debut on the Mac. In this report I’ll explain what you need to know to use Siri with your Mac.

[Also Read: First look: A week with macOS Sierra]

Enabling Siri

You’ll be asked to enable Siri when you install macOS Sierra, however, if you don’t do it then, don’t worry as Siri can also be enabled in System Preferences where it has its own “Siri” section. To the left of the Preferences pane you currently see the “Enable Siri” checkbox, which should be enabled by default. To the right you find preferences including language, voice, voice feedback, Mic Input and a drop down menu with which to enable a Keyboard Shortcut (see below). You will also find a tick box to show Siri in the menu bar and a link to take you to Apple’s Siri privacy pages.

siripreferences Appleholic

Once you have enabled Siri you will be able to speak with your Mac in natural spoken language — you don’t need to learn specific commands. (You may need to figure out how Siri thinks — sometimes you need to restructure your questions).

Accessing Siri

You do not need to say “Hey Siri” to activate your assistant. There are three ways to access is:

  • Click the Siri icon in the menu bar
  • Click the Siri icon in the Dock
  • Use the Keyboard Shortcut (if enabled). In the beta, the shortcut is set to Function Space by default, but this may change in the final OS. You can also set your own shortcut.
horses Jonny Evans

What can Siri do?

You don’t need to switch out of the application you are in to use Siri, just tap one of the shortcut to invoke it and you can then ask it to do whatever it is you need, from searching the Web to making a call and more. (You may find a few more ideas on how to use Siri in this article).

In very broad terms, Siri on the Mac has three key roles:


You can use Siri to send messages, open, search and respond to emails and to answer and make calls (if used with an iPhone).

  • “Call Dad at work.”
  • “Read my latest email.”
  • “Text Sacha ’See you soon smiley X’.”


Siri will handle a wide range of informational requests — from creating reminders to searching the Web to looking up locations and more. You can even search for specific images. Here are some of the things you can ask Siri to do for you:

  • “Tell me what movies are playing today.”
  • “Find a table for three tonight.”
  • “What’s the weather in San Francisco on Monday?”

System control

Siri also has a range of useful System-wide functions, meaning you can make necessary tweaks to your System Preferences quite easily, using your voice. You can adjust settings and get information about your system, find files and more. Some examples:

  • “Show me all the files called blogs.”
  • “Open the presentation I created last Monday.”
  • “Search for files Erica sent last week.”
  • “Turn Wi-Fi on.” (Or off)
  • “Turn the system volume up.”
  • “Start my screen saver.”
  • “How fast is my Mac.”
  • “How much iCloud storage do I have left?”
  • “What is my computer’s serial number?”

Accessibility: Because it works with VoiceOver and Switch Control, Siri is an invaluable tool to access the Mac’s Accessibility features, no matter which application you happen to be in at the time.

What’s the first thing you should ask Siri? Simple, ask it, “What can you do?”

macbookwithsiri Apple

What else can Siri to do?

Siri on the Mac behaves a little differently than it does on iPhones, iPads and the Apple TV. To put this into context it is important to recognize that Siri on the Mac is also an application, which means it is capable of application like behaviors. So, on the Mac using Siri:

You can drag-&-drop items from Siri search results into documents you are working on; Perhaps you are making a newsletter and need an image of a horse, you can ask Siri to get some images for you from the Web and then drag-&-drop the one you like into your document.

You can copy items from Siri search results by selecting them in the usual way (Command-C) and pasting them elsewhere (Command-V).

You can also pin certain search results to Notifications Center: You can’t do this for every kind of result, but those you can use in this way are shown in the Siri window with a small + sign in a grey circle at the top right of the specific search category. This is the Add button which you tap to pin that specific set of results. You can pin results from Sports, Stocks, Finder, Weather, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and others.

privacy Apple

Siri and privacy

Apple being Apple it has made sure you can easily access information about Siri and privacy in the Siri System Preferences section. This reveals that things you say are recorded and sent to Apple for processing and that information such as names, relationships, photo albums and other user data is also shared, but is not linked to any other data Apple may hold about you. However, if you untick the Enable Siri checkbox and turn Dictation off, Apple will delete much of your User data,

Caveat emptor

This report is based on use of an early beta of macOS Sierra. Some or all features may be added to or changed before the final version of the OS ships in Fall — but I’ll keep you posted moving forward.

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

Want Apple TV tips? If you want to learn how to get the very best out of your Apple TV, please visit my Apple TV website.

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when fresh items are published here first on Computerworld.

The march toward exascale computers
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies