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Apple’s Siri Tips, Tricks and Surprising Capabilities

Siri Top Tips and TricksTips, Tricks and Surprising Capabilities of Siri

Apple’s Siri has achieved an iconic status since its introduction.  It’s no surprise that the decidedly feminine personal assistant has gained such a following.  Her retorts to certain queries are the stuff of legend and her usefulness is hard to overstate.

Many users who have access to Siri aren’t fully cognizant of a lot of her capabilities.  As a personal assistant, Siri can help keep track of your appointments, emails, texts and other daily tasks.  She can also carry out a variety of other useful jobs.  Gathered here are some of the top tips and tricks for Siri.

Reminders Set by Location or Time

You probably know that Siri can send you a reminder at a specific time.  What is less well-known is that Siri can also give you reminders based on your location.  Setting either type of reminder is very easy.

For a time-specific reminder, simply tell Siri what time to remind you and what you need to do.  For example, you can tell Siri, “Remind me tomorrow at 9 a.m. to call my brother.”

Setting a reminder by location works the same way.  Instead of setting a specific time for a reminder, you set a specific place, such as “Remind me to go to the dry cleaner’s when I leave home.”  Because your iPhone has GPS, Siri knows when you leave your home location and will remind you to stop by the dry cleaner’s.

You may have to tell Siri specific information regarding locations or various other tidbits but location-specific reminders can be very useful.

Manage Your Text Messages

Texts and emails can be dictated through Siri, as many users are already aware.  Start by pressing and holding the Home button, and then simply speak what you want to do.  You might need to send a text to a colleague.  Simply say, “Text Mike Willis, don’t forget the PowerPoint presentation for the meeting.”  Siri searches your contacts for Mike Willis, composes the text and sends it without further input from you.

Many users don’t realize that Siri can also read your texts to you.  When you press and hold the Home button, tell Siri to “read my texts.”  Once a text has been read, you can tell Siri to reply in straightforward language like, “Tell Mom I’ll be there for Dad’s birthday,” or “Reply saying we’re on for next week.”

Siri can also sift through texts to find the ones from specific contacts when you ask if you have texts from them.  “Do I have texts from Mike?”

Social Media Upgrades

Siri’s most recent incarnation allows you to update your Facebook status or tweet by voice command.  This is different from the older version in that you no longer have to text to Twitter or Facebook to get Siri to post for you.

When you want to post to Facebook, tell Siri “Post to Facebook, I made a new friend today, an eight foot red-tail boa!”  You must start your command with the words “Post to Facebook.”  Siri will render your post into text and you can then approve it by saying “Yes” or tapping the Post button.

Twitter is just as easy.  Pressing and holding the Home button (as you must anytime you want to talk to Siri), tell Siri to “Post to Twitter” and then compose your tweet.  Siri will again render your post into text that you can review and approve or not by saying “Yes” or “No” when Siri asks if it should be posted.

Siri is a Math Whiz

Calculators are very helpful, as anyone who isn’t very good at math can attest.  But sometimes, a calculator isn’t enough.  A problem might have more steps that you think, resulting in wildly inaccurate figures when you try to tackle it yourself.

Say you’re out with a group of friends and need to know how to split the tip.  You can ask Siri to solve the problem for you.  Tell Siri the total of the bill and how many people are sharing it and she’ll tell you exactly how much everyone needs to chip in.  Multiplication, division, addition, subtraction and more complex equations can be completed in less time than it would take you to count to ten.

Finding Family and Friends

The Find My Friends app allows you to find the geographical location of individuals who have shared such information with you.  Find My Friends opens as a map with colored orbs that represent family members and friends.  The colored orbs tell you where a specific person is, even allowing you to access the street address if you want or need it.

Of course, this app is better with Siri. Just ask Siri where your friends are, and Siri will open the app and show you their locations.  You can then tell Siri to send a message to the contact of your choice.  You can ask Siri the location of specific people, too.  For this, you need to employ commands like “Find my girlfriend” or “Where are my parents?”

Entertainment Advisor

Siri may be the best thing to ever happen to movie-goers.  Box office information, reviews, cast lists and other movie-related information can be accessed through Siri by voice command.  You can even request that Siri find movie trailers for you.

Older movies are typically not supported, but sites like Rotten Tomatoes have trailers for thousands of movies available on demand.   These include new release movie trailers as well as trailers for a lot of movies that have come out in the last five or ten years.  Whether you’re looking to rent a slightly older movie, or trying to decide what to go see at the theater, Siri can help.  Tell Siri to “Show me the trailer for Kick-Ass 2.”  The appropriate trailer will start playing on your device automatically if it is available.

Making Reservations

Not only can Siri do research for you about restaurant ratings and reviews, as well as getting driving directions, Siri can even make reservations for you.  You’ve got to have the OpenTable app installed on your device, you have to have an account and be signed into it, and your restaurant of choice must be in the OpenTable database.  Tell Siri when you want to dine, what kind of cuisine you’re looking for and where and as long as the conditions above are met, Siri can make recommendations and book a table.

You’ll want to tell Siri to “Make a reservation for four at an Italian restaurant tonight.”  Siri will produce a list of nearby Italian restaurants, show you their ratings and let you know if they have tables available and at what time.  Select one, review its details and make the reservation through the OpenTable app (Siri will open it for you).

Siri Makes Life Easier

Apple’s iconic personal assistant can help with these and many other day-to-day tasks.  Learning how to make the most of Siri is important because it will allow you to increase your productivity and take your mind off all the little details that Siri can handle for you.  You won’t have to worry about forgetting an appointment or dropping the ball on your to-do list because you now have a phenomenal personal assistant.

These helpful hints are just the tip of the iceberg, so keep an eye out in future posts for more helpful tips and tricks for Siri.




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Finding A Lost iPhone

It happens to everyone: you put your phone down and get sidetracked, you leave it in a public place, or any of the multiple ways to lose a phone. You might be like me and have a terrible memory, which would lead you to forget where you put your phone. For some, this could be devastating; lost passwords, emails, contacts… the missing information may seem irretrievable. However, this isn’t the case; Apple has done a great job making your lost device recoverable. Your iPhone comes equipped with a few ways to find it, so don’t worry!

The most standard way to find a lost device is with a feature called ‘Find My iPhone.’ Say you’ve lost your phone; after logging on to iCloud.com using your Apple ID, you’ll be able to click the ‘Find My iPhone’ tab and instantly get a layout using Google Maps and a nice green dot showing where your device is. If that doesn’t help you locate it, there are a few features that can assist. If you click the ‘Devices’ button, you’ll get a full list of your devices. Selecting one will allow you to play a sound that’ll ring your phone – maybe you’re sitting on it and don’t even realize it. For more security, you can remotely lock your phone using the ‘Lost Mode’ button. This will allow you set a code to keep your device secure. If you feel like you need even more security, there’s also an option to erase your iPhone remotely as well. Be cautious when using this – it’s definitely irreversible, unless you have your files backed up. One thing to keep in mind is that your phone does have to be on to track it.


Find My iPhone is a great way to recover your lost device.


Another extremely efficient app is called GadgetTrak. As of now, it’s $3.99 on the App Store, but it’s definitely cheaper than replacing a lost phone. GadgetTrak has many of the same features that Find My iPhone does, but with some modifications. It can take pictures of a potential thief so you’ll have some face recognition. Of course, it comes with location tracking, which can be remotely activated from any computer with internet access. You’ll be able to send push notifications to the phone to allow a person who has recovered your device the chance to return it.

There are a multitude of other applications that can be used to locate a lost phone. Look around the App Store and see which one fits you best. Spending $4-5 for a high-end app is much more appealing than going to an Apple store to explain that you need to replace a lost or stolen phone.

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The Mayan Apocalypse, be sure your data survives – or at least catastrophic hardware failure

I learned many things in the time I spent supporting Macs professionally; one of the most important was about how to protect (often irreplaceable) data.  I also learned that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who’ve already lost data, and those who haven’t lost data yet.  So today, in honor of the Mayan Apocalypse (which could still totally happen, we don’t know!) we’re going to take a look at some of the best ways to back up all of your important stuff.  Every good data backup/recovery plan should include both local and off-site storage; you never know when fire, flood or zombie horde is going to destroy either end of that chain.

The first, most basic backup option is an app that’s totally free and baked right into Mac OS X – Time Machine. This is Apple’s own backup utility, and it’s been included in every OS X release since Leopard (10.5).  Time Machine’s initial backup is essentially a snapshot of your internal hard drive at that given moment, with the exception of anything you’ve told it to ignore as well as the Time Machine volume itself, and ideally saved to an external hard drive.  Once this snapshot is completed, then Time Machine continues to make incremental backups of any changes to data on the drive it’s backing up.  This happens hourly; then the hourlies get compressed into dailies, dailies into weeklies, weeklies into monthlies and so on, until you run out of space on the external drive.  The very best thing, hands-down, about Time Machine is that it’s Apple software and as such is fully supported by AppleCare technicians.  This means that when (notice I didn’t say “if”) you experience Mayan Apocalypse-level data loss, your friendly neighborhood Apple techs can walk you through restoring from your Time Machine backup.

Apple also has one more backup method available, as part of its iCloud service. It requires Lion (10.7) or Mountain Lion (10.8), as well as iOS 5 or later for iPhone 3GS and up, 3rd-gen iPod touch and up, and iPad. It’s a little more a la carte, in the sense that it doesn’t start with the snapshot of your whole hard drive that Time Machine does.  According to Apple’s support article about purchasing more iCloud storage, “iCloud customers are provided with 5 GB of free cloud storage. Purchased music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books, as well as photos in your Photo Stream don’t count against your 5 GB of free storage.”  This is really important information to have, especially when you consider that most of the money people spend with Apple is in the form of media content that Apple won’t replace if you lose it. (“Some iTunes Products, including but not limited to Content rentals, may be downloaded only once and cannot be replaced if lost for any reason. It is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage iTunes Products once downloaded, and you may wish to back them up.”) Potential iCloud customers should also note that its storage tops out at a measly extra 50GB of space for $100/year, which you have to keep paying if you want to retain access to stuff you’ve put in Apple’s cloud.

Other companies offer backup services for Mac users, and lots of them are in the cloud.  We’ve all gone digital these days, it seems, and hard copies of anything just seem kind of passé.  One you can’t avoid hearing about if you listen to any kind of commercial radio is Carbonite.  The company offers unlimited, encrypted online backup of a single Mac for $59/year.  However, if you’re looking to back up more than one Mac in your home, you’ll be looking at spending a minimum of $229/year for a business package.

One company that seems to combine the best of both cloud storage and easy-peasy Time Machine usage is DollyDrive. You’re literally able to purchase space from the company that then functions as a virtual external hard drive that you can point Time Machine at, set it like a Crock Pot and just forget it.  And that 50GB top end for iCloud?  That’s the entry level with DollyDrive, and even paying them month-to-month will only set you back $60 over the course of a year for it.  Their prices drop pretty respectably when you start paying for multiple months in advance.  You can also back up multiple Macs at no extra charge (just make sure you pick a plan with enough room) and for $100 they’ll even ship you a specially-prepared physical hard drive so that you can get your data safe in the cloud before the apocalypse happens.  I mean, come on, what’s not to love about a company that uses the Mayan Apocalypse (or lack thereof) as a selling point for its services?

Last but certainly not least, understand that there is a difference between backups and archives.  An archive is a static collection of data that isn’t going to change anymore, and needs to be able to last for a long time.  A backup is a collection of data that is subject to change, such as pictures being added to a camera roll, emails from your creepy ex being deleted, or spandy-new Justin Bieber songs being added to your iTunes library.  So even if you have a backup you trust, it’s also a good idea to have an off-site archive of your most important information, so that you don’t lose it and so that it can be easily accessed for a long time to come. I found an excellent ZDNet article about how to archive data for the long haul; it’s definitely worth a read.  The long and short of it is that your (often-irrepleaceable) data is valuable but storage is cheap, so buy lots and keep it in a safe place away from your home.  CDs and DVDs in a bank safe deposit box are a good start.  Make sure to choose open source formats wherever possible.  For documents, good-quality hard copies are also a good backup to your backup.

If you employ even some of the suggestions listed here, your data should safe from just about anything except the Mayan Apocalypse.

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iPhone carriers compared – how to get the best bang for your buck

Which Carrier to choose...T-Mobile’s iPhone announcement means that consumers now have a dizzying array of options for getting their Apple mobile device fix in the new year.  Choices mean competition as well as a certain amount of confusion.  So what’s a fangirl to do if she wants to have her Kool-Aid and drink it too?  Well, I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. So go ahead and add that iPhone to your Christmas list, and then hand this article to whoever you think’s going to actually drop the cash for the goods; they’ll thank you soon enough!

All phone prices refer to the 16GB iPhone 4S, since that seems to be the device most likely to be offered as a holiday special.  I also used “unlimited” as a baseline for service, since that seems to be the direction the wireless world is heading, and it offers the best basis for mostly equal comparison amongst the various carriers.  Also note that all plan prices refer to a single line of service; family/share plans are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish entirely. Finally, note that I used 2GB as a baseline for data where it was an option, as that seems to be where the majority of carriers either limit or slow a single line’s access on a monthly basis.

We’ll start with the Big 4, then look at the the no-contract carriers.  Note that I listed them all in alphabetical order, in the interests of fairness and ease of locating the particular corporate behemoth you’d like to sell your soul to.

Major Carriers

Carrier iPhone 4S Price Unlimited*/Month Hotspot Service Data Cap
AT&T $99 w/2-yr contract $140/mo ($50 for data, $20 for msgs) included in data price 5GB full speed
Sprint $99 w/2-yr contract $110/mo $20/mo  —
T-Mobile Price TBD $90/mo $15/mo 2GB full speed
Verizon $99 w/2-yr contract $100/mo ($40 smartphone access fee, $60 for data included in data price 2GB full speed (other data plans available)

Minor Carriers

Carrier iPhone 4S Price Unlimited/Month Hotspot Service Data Cap
Consumer Cellular n/a (bring your own device; no charge for SIM card no unlimited plans; $30/mo for 750 mins  — 1GB (hard limit)
Cricket Wireless $500/no contract $55/mo for unlim talk, text & web  — 2.5GB full speed
Straight Talk n/a (bring your own device; $15 for SIM/microSIM) $45/mo for unlim talk, text & web  — no limit listed, but likely 2GB
Virgin Mobile $450/no contract $55/mo for unlim talk, text & web $15/mo 2.5GB full speed w/o hotspot; 3.5GB with hotspot
Each of the carriers listed above has its own risks and benefits; for instance, none of the minor carriers require contracts and a couple allow customers to bring their own phones to the party.  That said, you’ll pay a pretty penny for a brand new iPhone and the privilege of not being locked into a 2-year agreement.  Also note that if you want to support American jobs, Consumer Cellular is the way to go, since all of its customer care and shipping is located right here in the good ol’ US of A.
I’m not gonna lie, my loyalty lies with T-Mobile.  I’ve been a satisfied Magenta customer since 2006, they’ve been very good to me, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do to shake up the industry.  However, if I didn’t have a contract and was in the market for service, I would choose Sprint for contract service due to its unlimited data or Virgin for no-contract service because of the simplicity and value of its unlimited offer.
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Understanding the iPhone


Understanding the iPhoneThere are a lot of things about the iPhone that the majority of iPhone users do not know. For example, what is backed up in iTunes. This I think is partially due to the way new users are presented the iPhone for the first time. When you open the box for the first time there is very little in the way of instructions. A simple pamphlet telling you what the buttons do. After that you are left on your own. If you are an avid techie like myself, you will have very little trouble diving right in and getting everything set up. The iPhone is designed in a way that allows for almost anyone to use it with only the bare minimum knowledge of the product. It is not always that simple. Not everyone knows what most people, that consider themselves proficient iOS users, consider the basics.

Step 1: This is not a computer

iPhone is not a PC

Step 2: Protecting yourself from life

The iPhone is incredibly sturdy. It can survive massive drops, and has for me on many occasions. However we cannot rely entirely on luck. The best way to protect your investment is a insurance plan. Most major carriers have one, and Apple has AppleCare+. This last one is what I have on my devices. AppleCare+ gives you two years of hardware warranty, phone support from AppleCare, and two accidental damage deductibles (for 49$ each). One key note here is that while AppleCare+ covers all kinds of damage it does not cover lost or stolen devices. If that is your concern you might want to look at other third party insurances.

Second, find a good case + screen protector combo. This is an important point for most iPhone owners. A good case can be a fashion statement, or a tank. The choice, ultimately, is up to you. In the end I prefer to not trust my iPhone to the elements without some kind of protection. For me, I end up with a mid-range candy shell case with razed edges and a smudge resistant screen protector.

With your iPhone protected, you will end up with a much longer living device. Now all you have to do is keep your iPhone away from 1 year olds who like to use it as a chew toy.

Step 3: What happens if it breaks?

No one likes having a broken phone, however this stuff happens. What happens when it breaks? Like I said before your best option was to purchase AppleCare+ when you bought your iPhone. However not everyone got this. Fortunately there is another option. Apple will replace any model iPhone for a fairly cheap price (in relation to the overall cost of the phone). Check out HERE for more information from apple.com.

iPhone model Out-of-Warranty Service
iPhone 5 $229
iPhone 4S $199
iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS,
iPhone 3G, Original iPhone

Should you go this route there are a few things that you must keep in mind. Firstly, your phone will not be repaired. It will be replaced, and it will be replaced with a “refurbished” device. Check out THIS for more details about their refurbished devices. There are a few more lesser known details about this service however. All refurbished devices have an entirely new outer shell, and can have mostly new internals. Things like the battery are always new!

Apple has a few methods for repair. Most of them can be very quick and painless.

First up, mail in repairs. Lets say you live in the middle of no-where and you don’t even have a post office for 50 miles around. The option for you is called Customer Arranged Shipping. Here is how it works. Apple will provide the shipping label (and in some cases the box too!) and you will package up your device and arrange with FedEx for it to be sent in. This option normally takes and estimated 7-10 business days. One additional detail about this, all payment is arranged over the phone with AppleCare. Alternative you have the Customer Drop Off option. For this you are given a work order number for a The UPS Store. The work order can be given over the phone, or emailed to you for you to print out. This one doesn’t take near as long as the first, clocking in at 5-7 business days. There is one final mail in option. This is the most expensive option, and the quickest. It is called Express Replacement. This option has a base 29$ processing fee (this is waved if you have AppleCare on your device), and a hold must be placed on a credit card for the full retail value of the device. Express Replacement will overnight you a replacement device, and all you need do is take out the replacement device, get your data from the old device to the new one, and follow the in-box instructions to return the broken one. Once the broken device is received back the hold will be released. The final option is rather simple. All you need is an Genius Bar appointment with your local Apple Store. Most Apple Stores are really busy so keep that in mind should you chose this option! You can find your local Apple Store HERE.

That’s all for this week! See you next time!

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