Although the iPhone 5s sports a faster processor and fingerprint scanner, and the 5c a bold new design, the feature that everyone is still talking about is Siri. Siri enables you to speak commands to your phone and have it do your bidding. You activate Siri by holding down the Home button on the iPhone itself, or by holding down the control button on your wired or wireless headset. Siri is faster and more reliable than ever with iOS 7. The iPhone's voice-recognition feature works by recording your voice and sending it to a server that interprets what you've said and returns plain text. If you don't have an internet connection, Siri won't work.
Siri is a massive leap forward over old fashioned speech recognition. This used to require a strict vocabulary and couldn't do very much. Worse still, for non-Americans, voice recognition struggled with European, Australian and other accents.
Siri doesn't require a strict vocabulary, and it'll generally figure out what you are trying to say.
That makes interacting with it seem much more natural. It also works pretty well with a range of accents, and has American, British and Australian settings, as well as French, German, Italian, Spanish and more.
Siri is incredibly comprehensive. In addition to the Phone and Music apps, it's tied in to Messages, Calendar, Reminders, Maps, Mail, Weather, Stocks, Clock, Contacts, Notes, and Safari. It's also linked to Wolfram Alpha, the 'computational knowledge engine' that can provide answers to numerous factual questions, and Yelp, the directory of local businesses.
The recent iOS 7 update to Siri also sees it capable of searching Twitter and adjusting Settings. Siri can also perform a web search for you - although it now uses Bing as the default search engine, asking Siri to "Google" something results in it using Google instead.
Speaking your language
GETTING STARTED WITH SIRI COULDN'T BE EASIER. Simply press and hold the Home button. The background will blur, you'll hear a 'ba-ding' noise and 'What can I help you with?' appears on the screen. You should also see a wavy white line at the bottom of the screen.
Simply speak your request into the phone and, when you've finished speaking, the white line turns into a round microphone icon and Siri will get back to you with an answer. Sometimes it takes Siri a few moments to think about the answer, but it's a lot faster in iOS 7.
You can ask Siri all sorts of things, and the more you use it the more accurate it becomes. You soon become aware of just how useful it can be, and what its boundaries are. It's great at working with text messages, but not so much with email (it's a faff to enter both subjects and messages). It knows a lot about weather, restaurants, movies and football, but nothing about Formula One, for example.
It is also hooked-up to the Maps application, so it can locate businesses, movie times, restaurants and bars near you. One of the great things about Siri is asking it to find things in your local area.
There are a few scenarios in which Siri truly excels. The first of those is when you're in a hands-free scenario, mostly likely when driving a car. (The iPhone knows when you're in a hands-free situation and becomes more chatty, reading text aloud that it might not if it knows you're holding it in your hand.) Siri is also deeply integrated with the directions feature in Maps, and works as a fantastic voice-activated satnav.
When you get a text message, you can instruct Siri to read the message, and it will. You can then tell it to reply to the message, dictate the entire message, have Siri read it back to you to confirm that it makes sense, and then send it. You can also ask Siri to read out your Mail messages and it'll let you know who sent you a message and what the subject line is.
There are still some gaps. Siri won't read your emails to you and it'd be great if you could get it to read out whole books and web pages. And while iOS has the nifty Notification Centre, which gives you granular control over how different apps notify you about what's going on, there's no option to read alerts out loud when you're in hands-free mode. A missed opportunity.
If you aren't driving, Siri can Still be useful. In fact, the feature proves that some tasks can be done much faster through speech than through clicking, tapping and swiping. It's much easier to set an alarm or timer using Siri than it is to unlock your phone, find the Clock app, and tap within the app. Just say, "Set a timer for three minutes," and your phone begins to count down until your tea is ready. "Set an alarm for 5am" does what you'd expect, instantly. "Remind me to record my favourite show" and "Note that I need to take my suit to the cleaners" work, too. These are short bursts of data input that can be handled quickly by voice, and we've found they work well.
It's also much faster to ask Siri to access settings than it is to dive through the menu. You can just say "Change wallpaper" rather than opening Settings and tapping Wallpaper.
You will soon become impressed by Siri's ability to understand the context of conversations. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's magical. We asked Siri for suggestions for places to have lunch and it provided us with a list of nearby restaurants that serve lunch.
Of course, talking to your phone is not much different from talking on your handset. It's not appropriate in all contexts. If, for example, you're quietly reading in the library and need to set a reminder, you should use he Reminders app, not Siri. And if you're out in public, well, you can use Siri, but you do risk people looking at you funny.
Apple's integration of Wolfram Alpha with Siri is a smart move. If you need answers to factual questions, such as the speed of light or the number of days until Christmas, the answer engine can provide the solution.
While Siri gets the bulk of the iPhone feature hype, another speech-related technology may prove to be more important and a bigger boost to user productivity. On the keyboard you'll see a new button in the bottom row, to the left of the spacebar, with the image of a microphone on it. Tap this button and the iPhone will transcribe whatever you say. It sends the results over the internet to a server that analyses your speech and converts it into text. We were impressed at just how fast the results came back, especially over Wi-Fi. And they were generally accurate.
To get the most out of dictation, you'll need to start thinking in punctuation. For example, to construct a decent email message, we might say, "Dan. Comma. New paragraph. What do you think about writing a review of iOS numeral five. Question mark. New paragraph. Let me know what you think. Exclamation point." However, it works.
Part of Siri's charm isn't in its feature set (which is still hit and miss), but it's personable nature. Siri feels a lot less robotic than other voice-activated technology. Even when Siri gets out of its depth and doesn't know what to do, it's hard to feel too frustrated. And you can joke around with Siri. Apple has spent a lot of time providing Siri with a range of comebacks to joke questions (many geeky by nature). Try telling Siri you love it, or use common catchphrases such as "Who's your daddy" or "Who let the dogs out?" These are constantly being updated, too - for example, a recent one is to keep saying "Okay Glass" (the phrase used to activate a rival product made by Google), Siri starts to get annoyed.
Siri is by no means perfect, and occasionally it can mistranslate what you're saying, either transcribing the wrong message or finding the wrong result from Contacts. But it gets better the more you use it, and the more useful it becomes. And it's fun! Siri is one of the most entertaining aspects of the iPhone, so be sure to hold down the Home button and try it out.