Pocket-lint is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

(Pocket-lint) - The upcoming update for Apple's computers (it's called Sierra and OS X is now called macOS, do keep up) has already announced lots of new features.

One stands head and shoulders above the others though: the voice recognition-powered personal assistant Siri, familiar to users of the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, is now coming to the Mac.

Ahead of the public beta of Sierra, available now from beta.apple.com, Pocket-lint was given special extended access to the first version of the new software. This is what it's been like, for the last two weeks, living with Siri.

Is this a lame attempt to add voice commands that we'll use once and then forget about? Or is it the beginning of the world where we address our computers as comfortably as Jean-Luc Picard did in Star Trek?

Siri is not alone

Of course, Windows users will point out that its voice assistant, Cortana, has been on laptop and desktop computers with Windows 10 for a while now. And Google users on phone and tablet especially are familiar with searching using their voice. First things first, Siri feels like a confident and powerful program that mostly worked well.

Talk to your computer

Talking to your laptop doesn't suit every situation - a crowded office is probably right out. But at home, it comes into its own. It thrives in a quiet room. Listening to Radio 4 at the same time, or some other voice-based station, leads to chaos.

Many Mac users will be familiar with using the Dictation program currently on the Mac, so if you're a Dictation user, Siri may be for you.

No "Hey Siri"

To wake your personal assistant you can't just say "Hey Siri" as you can with the iPhone and iPad. This is a shame, so let's hope such a feature will be activated in the future. This might be Apple's way of stopping all your other Apple devices on your desk springing to your assistance. Note that on Windows PCs there's an option for voice activation by saying "Hey Cortana". The benefit, of course, is that if you're sitting on the other side of the room you can control the laptop without getting up. You lazy thing.

For now, you wake Siri up by clicking on the elegant Siri icon in the Dock, or the one at the top right of the menu bar or using a keyboard shortcut: Command + Spacebar and hold.

What happens on launch

No surprise here: a Siri window appears with that familiar beep, the microphone is listening and text reads: "What can I help you with?".

Let's not get picky here and point out that it's not great to end a sentence with a preposition. Cortana is always ready to respond, too, mind.

File management

One of the differences between the iPad and the Mac is file management so it's good that Siri can be used for finding files and opening them on the Mac. "Show me the documents folder" and "Show me emails I received yesterday" or even "Find me files with Giraffes in the title" work well and can save some searching.

It's good at locating individual files whether they're documents or notes (or others) if you know the title or when they were created or modified. This is one of the most useful benefits of Siri, that it can search the hard drive quickly, and it has really speeded up our work flow while we've been using it. 

Of course you can also do things like launching apps or setting calendar meetings easily, just like on the iPhone.

Ask Siri what your next appointment is and it'll show you. You can then follow up with a request to change or cancel it, if you wish. If you ask Siri to launch iTunes, it can do that. But it then closes the Siri window, so you can't also ask it to play a music track. Though you can click the button again and say "Play music from Simon and Garfunkel", say.

Finding the dull stuff

Unless you regularly refer to it, there is a good chance you might not know how fast your Mac's processor is or how much iCloud storage you have left, for instance. Sure, you know how to find this on your iPhone but checking on the Mac might take more clicks.

You can easily do more than one thing at at time with Siri. That means if you are typing a document and need that system info, one mouse click to the dock and you can instruct Siri to find that system information while you continue to work on that document. This kind of multi-tasking is properly time-saving.

Still, there were inconsistencies. Asking how much storage space was simple but "How old is this Mac?" foxed Siri into saying "Interesting question" which wasn't so helpful. Still, this is early software and it'll certainly improve.

Names are tricky

To be fair, this is true of all of us. How often does someone introduce themselves to you and when you repeat their name back they say something quite different? Anyway, names are a voice-activated assistant's nightmare.

These are the best wireless keyboards you can buy if you are a professional

The trouble is if you're asking Siri to read emails from Jon and it looks for John, you won't get far. And things become frankly infuriating when Siri understands that you want to dictate a message to Andrew, say, and begins transcribing the message with the words "Hi Andrea"! After the fifth attempt you may just type the message, which defeats the point.

More searches

Overall, Cortana is solid but a little slower while Siri, even in this early version, feels nippier and trustable, names aside. We especially like the ability to be able to do a Safari search for images, say, and drag the results directly into a document. It is pretty neat. Cortana tends to drag the link rather than the actual pic. Also, Apple says it automatically chooses the highest-resolution file it can find.

Asking for directions to a place was as easy and straightforward as doing the same on the Apple Watch and posting a new status to Facebook or sending a new tweet were quick.

It's still frustrating that when you've dictated a message and there's a word wrong that you can't edit that one word. It's easier in an email - clicking the message opens it so you can correct the erroneous word with typing. When Siri can edit and replace individual words in the message you just dictated, things will be better.


It is early days and it's early software. The longer living with Siri, the more things sprang up that were useful, and being able to check sports results or cinema information as they happen using Spotlight in the current software is often easier with voice.

Occasionally a poor Wi-Fi connection led to problems and those name inconsistencies can be frustrating. The facility to drag an image straight from Siri's window into a document is brilliantly convenient though and more of these features will be welcome.

Siri on the Mac feels like a great upgrade. It may not yet revolutionise how you use your Mac - we're not yet at a time that we'll be doing everything with voice commands, but it's already started to change the way we use our Mac, for the better, and that can only be something that we welcome.

Writing by David Phelan.