Siri on the Mac hasn’t been as useful as on iOS devices, but with macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple enhanced the Mac version of Siri in a variety of ways. Apple says that Siri now knows about food, celebrities, and motorsports, but more interesting is how you can ask Siri to control your HomeKit devices (“Turn on the bedroom lights.”) and locate your iOS devices or AirPods via Find My iPhone (“Where is my iPhone?”).
There’s an Internet saying: “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” The point is that, if you’re getting a service for free, the company providing it sees you not as a customer, but as a product to sell, generally to advertisers.
This is how Google, Facebook, and Twitter operate. They provide services for free, collect data about you, and make money by showing you ads. In theory, the more that advertisers know about you, the better they can target ads to you, and the more likely you’ll be to buy. Personalized advertising can seem creepy (or clueless, when it fails), but it isn’t inherently evil, and we’re not suggesting that you stop using ad-supported services.
This ad-driven approach stands in stark contrast to how Apple does business. Apple makes most of its money by selling hardware—iPhones, Macs, and iPads, primarily. Another big chunk of Apple’s revenue comes from App Store and iTunes Store sales, iCloud subscriptions, and Apple Pay fees. Knowing more about you, what Web pages you visit, what you buy, and who you’re friends with doesn’t help Apple’s business, and on its Privacy page, Apple says bluntly, “We believe privacy is a fundamental human right.”
Of course, once your data is out there, it can be lost or stolen—in June 2018, a security researcher discovered that the online data broker Exactis was exposing a database containing 340 million records of data on hundreds of millions of American adults. Ouch!
Let’s look at a few of the ways that Apple protects your privacy.
Siri and Dictation
The longer you use Siri and Dictation, the better they work, thanks to your devices transmitting data back to Apple for analysis. However, Apple creates a random identifier for your data rather than associating the information with your Apple ID, and if you reset Siri by turning it off and back on, you’ll get a new random identifier. Whenever possible, Apple keeps Siri functionality on your device, so if you search for a photo by location or get suggestions after a search, those results come from local data only.
Touch ID and Face ID
When you register your fingerprints with Touch ID or train Face ID to recognize your face, it’s reasonable to worry about that information being stored where attackers—or some government agency—could access it and use it for nefarious purposes. Apple was concerned about that too, so these systems don’t store images of your fingerprints or face, but instead mathematical signatures based on them. Those signatures are kept only locally, in the Secure Enclave security coprocessor that’s part of the CPU of the iPhone and iPad—and on Touch ID-equipped laptops—in such a way that the images can’t be reverse engineered from the signatures.
And, of course, a major goal of Touch ID and Face ID is to prevent someone from violating your privacy by accessing your device directly.
Health and Fitness
People with medical conditions can be concerned about health information impacting health insurance bills or a potential employer’s hiring decision. To assuage that worry, Apple lets you choose what information ends up in Health app, and once it’s there, encrypts it whenever your iPhone is locked. Plus, any Health data that’s backed up to iCloud is encrypted both in transit and when it’s stored on Apple’s servers.
App Store Guidelines
A linchpin in Apple’s approach to privacy is its control over the App Store. Since developers must submit apps to Apple for approval, Apple can enforce stringent guidelines that specify how apps can ask for access to your data (location, photos, contacts, etc.). This isn’t a blanket protection—for instance, if you allow a social media app Facebook to access your contacts and location, the company behind that app will get lots of data on your whereabouts and can even cross-reference that with the locations of everyone in your contact list who also uses the service.
In the end, only you can decide how much information you want to share with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and only you can determine if or when their use of your details feels like an invasion of privacy. But by using Apple products and services, you can be certain that the company that could know more about you than any other is actively trying to protect your privacy.
You can teach Siri how to pronounce names properly. Siri is supposed to be a competent voice assistant, but sometimes Siri can’t even pronounce your own name correctly! Luckily, it’s easy to fix Siri’s pronunciation for any name. Just say to Siri, “Learn how to pronounce Jill Kresock.” (Siri defaults to “krehsock” rather than the correct “kreesock” in this case.) Siri first asks you to say the person’s first name and then presents a list of options for the best pronunciation. Tap the play button next to each option to hear it, and tap Select for the one you like best. If none are good, tap Tell Siri Again and say the name again, perhaps changing your enunciation slightly. Once you’ve set up the first name, Siri will ask you to say the person’s last name, after which you can pick the best pronunciation for the last name.
After months of anticipation, Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker finally shipped in mid-February. Reviews of its audio quality have been positive, and for the most part, it works both as advertised and as you’d expect. However, there were some surprises, most good but some bad. Whether you have a HomePod on your credenza (which may be a bad spot for it!) or you’re still deciding if you want to buy one, here are ten things you should know:
- Furniture rings. Let’s get this one out of the way. The HomePod can leave rings on oil-finished wood furniture because the silicone base can react with certain wooden surfaces. That has to be embarrassing for a company that prides itself on materials expertise like Apple. The solution is easy—just put something under it.
- Single user. Anyone in the room can give Siri commands, but when it comes to account-based connections, the HomePod is a single-user device. So if you set it up, which is astonishingly easy, it will connect to your Apple Music account, your iMessage account, your iCloud account for Reminders, and so on. That’s fine for you, but your family members won’t be able to access their Apple Music playlists, for instance.
- Speakerphone. The HomePod may be the best speakerphone you’ve ever used. Alas, you can’t initiate a call on it, but once you start one on your iPhone, you can transfer the call by tapping the new Audio button that replaced the Speaker button in iOS 11.2.5 and selecting the HomePod.
- Apple Music. The HomePod can act as an AirPlay speaker, and can thus play audio from your other Apple devices. But when you control it via Siri, the music must come from Apple Music, your iTunes Store purchases, or be matched in your iCloud Music Library. To send Mac audio from apps other than iTunes to the HomePod, get Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil.
- Audio power. It may be small, but the HomePod has plenty of power. At 6 feet, we measured the sound output at 100% volume at 80 decibels, which is louder than is comfortable.
- Volume control. Speaking of volume, you control it by percentages, as in “Hey Siri, set the volume to 15 percent.” You can also tap the + and – buttons on the top of the HomePod to adjust the volume in 5% increments.
- Electrical usage. The HomePod may be turned on all the time—it has no power switch—but it uses very little electricity. In our testing, it used 2.5 to 3 watts when it was idle but has been used recently, and 4 to 7 watts when playing. Leave it alone in a quiet room for a while, and its power usage drops to 0 watts with just an occasional 1.5-watt spike.
- Good listener. The HomePod hears your commands remarkably well, even when it’s playing music at a high volume. You shouldn’t have to shout at it.
- Hey Siri. If you’re within earshot of a HomePod and want to give Siri a command on your iPhone or Apple Watch, don’t say “Hey Siri” right away. Instead, to use your iPhone, unlock it first. Or, to use your Apple Watch, raise your wrist. Apple has an explanation of how Hey Siri works with multiple devices.
- Apple TV. You can play audio from your Apple TV through your HomePod. On the main screen of the Apple TV, press and hold the Play/Pause button on the Siri Remote, and then select the HomePod before playing a show. Or, while playing video, swipe down on the Siri Remote, swipe right to select Audio, and then select your HomePod in the Speaker list.
Once you’ve transferred audio to the HomePod, you can use Hey Siri commands to pause and play the Apple TV content, change volume, and even rewind and fast-forward by a certain amount of time (“Hey Siri, rewind 10 seconds”). However, other things that Siri on the Apple TV can do, like tell you who stars in a movie, work only when you press and hold the Siri button on the Siri Remote.
Much as the HomePod works well right now, it stands to improve in the coming year. Apple plans to release software updates that will enable two HomePods in the same room to provide true stereo sound, and that will let you control multiple HomePods simultaneously for multi-room audio.
If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re not in elementary school, but it’s still easy to end up with a bunch of numbers you need to calculate. Perhaps you’re trying to total receipts for an expense report, average your kid’s report card grades, or split a restaurant bill. Either way, instead of launching the Calculator app on your iPhone (it’s oddly missing from the iPad), get Siri to do the math for you. For each the above examples, try the following, making sure to speak the decimal point as “point” or “dot.” “What is 113.25 plus 67.29 plus 89.16?” “What is the average of 92 and 96 and 82 and 91?” “What is 235.79 divided by 6?” Siri always shows you the calculation, so you can verify that it heard you correctly, just in case you’re doing this in a loud restaurant.
Do you create reminders with Siri on the iPhone? Those reminders are automatically added to your default list, which you set in Settings > Reminders > Default List. That’s great generally—“Hey Siri, remind me to update watchOS tonight at 11 PM”—but less good when you want to maintain different shopping lists. For instance, create a list called “Grocery,” and then you can tell Siri, “Put chocolate-covered bacon on my Grocery list.” Want to get fancy? Make a list called “Hardware,” and then tell Siri, “Add birdseed to my Hardware list, and remind me when I arrive at Home Depot.” You may have to pick the correct Home Depot location from a list, but then you’ll receive an alert reminding you to buy birdseed when you pull into the parking lot. To look at any list via Siri, just say something like “Show my Grocery list.”