How to Quickly Launch Apps With Siri

By , Nov 7, 2011

One of the glaring features that Apple left out of Siri is the ability to integrate with and launch apps. You can do all sorts of things with your voice and Siri, but you can’t use third-party apps (short of a few exceptions and the services Apple officially partnered with for launch) or open apps with a voice command.

Thanks to the widely undocumented world of iOS URL schemes, you can actually trigger app shortcuts with Siri on your iPhone 4S. While it’s not the cleanest method, there are tons of possibilities for quickly launching apps with Siri. Let’s take a closer look…

iOS URL schemes allow apps to be directly launched from Mobile Safari. Instead of tapping the Maps app from the iPhone’s springboard, you can enter maps:// in the address bar of Mobile Safari to directly trigger the app. While some third-party apps sandbox themselves from the ability to interact with URL schemes, most apps have essentially “bound” themselves in the iOS SDK to a list of URL schemes that trigger in-app actions.

A famous example of taking advantage of URL schemes was when the developers of Camera+ introduced a workaround URL scheme that let users snap a picture with the iPhone’s volume button. Typing camplus://enablevolumesnap into Mobile Safari would enable a hidden hack in Camera+ that enabled the volume button shutter. This was all before iOS 5 and the native ability to take a photo with the volume button, and Camera+ was technically breaking Apple’s developer licensing agreement. There was a huge ordeal made of the hack and Camera+ was temporarily pulled from the App Store.

The Camera+ situation was an example of an enhanced URL scheme. Developers can attach custom parameters that trigger an app to do something more specific than just launch. For the purpose of conceptualizing, think of URL schemes as the terminal and command line world of iOS.

For example:

twitter://post?message

Typing this into Mobile Safari will launch the official Twitter app and open the compose tweet window. This same system of thought can be used to send text to and from different apps. People with much more developer knowledge than I have created in-depth tutorials on the topic.

Back to the task at hand: launching apps from Siri.

As I was thinking about a workaround, a forum thread turned me on to the idea of using URL schemes as contact shortcuts.

Many, many apps can be triggered with URL schemes, including some apps that I use frequently: fb://tweetbot://reeder://instagram://yammer://, and imdb://. In most cases, there’s no real point in using a Siri shortcut to simply open an app. For the purpose of this tutorial, we’ll take a closer look at triggering the Facebook app with Siri.

The iPhone URL Schemes wiki page has some great information for reference. Here are some of the custom URL shortcuts that are built into the Facebook app:

  • fb://profile – Open Facebook app to the user’s profile
  • fb://friends – Open Facebook app to the friends list
  • fb://notifications – Open Facebook app to the notifications list
  • fb://feed – Open Facebook app to the News Feed
  • fb://events – Open Facebook app to the Events page
  • fb://requests – Open Facebook app to the Requests list
  • fb://notes – Open Facebook app to the Notes page
  • fb://albums – Open Facebook app to Photo Albums list

And there’s plenty more where those came from.

To create a Facebook shortcut for Siri, make a new contact and call it something like “Facebook Shortcuts.” Then, add a bunch of the URL schemes from above. After you’ve made the contact, tell Siri something along the lines of “show Facebook shortcuts.”

Tapping each of the URLs will open the associated action in the Facebook app. Again, it’s not the prettiest trick in the world, but it’s functional.

There’s really unlimited possibilities when it comes to these URL scheme triggers, so I encourage you to check out the handleOpenURL database for more third-party app schemes. Here are some more examples for stock iOS apps:

  • itms-apps:// – Open the App Store
  • maps:// – Open the Maps app
  • sms:// – Open the compose window of the Messages app
  • music:// – Go to the currently playing song in the Music app
  • youtube:// – Open the YouTube app
  • itms-books:// – Open the iBooks app

If you have a select number of apps that you’d like to have quick access to with Siri, you could create a “Shortcuts” or “Favorites” contact and add each trigger. Telling Siri to “show shortcuts” would then pull up your list of app shortcuts to open within Siri.

This is really an open-ended conversation, so please share your ideas for using iOS URL schemes in the comments. How could Siri be used to help open apps via this method?

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  • http://twitter.com/motech mosey levy

    love it. can you give address book items custom names so siri can launch then by voice ?

  • http://flavors.me/mile MILE

    Okay, I admit that I don’t get it…! What’s the point of (to use your example) launching the Facebook app through Siri…?! To actually use it then I’d have to take my phone out of my pocket and tap the screen — so why not just launch it the regular way in the first place…?!

    Maybe I’m missing something here but what’s the advantage of launching apps via voice command…?

    • Anonymous

      Because you can invoke specific actions quickly.

    • Mike Petra

      You can just speak then tap. Rather than search for app and tap. Theoretically anyway. You just say Show me Shortcuts, then tap the text you typed in the homepage line as explained above. When I tapped fb:// it opened a camera editing app then closed.

    • http://twitter.com/healthtrainer Balanced-Health

      I agree. By the time you tap the right contact, then tap again to select the right URL, you could have just tapped the app icon in the first place. I think this is a cool and clever method but it isn’t any faster than doing it the old fashioned way. It’s got a high “geek factor” but not much practical use.

    • http://twitter.com/nickg_uk Nick Gilbert

      Because it’s easier just to say the name of the app than having to do a search for it and type it in by hand (or scroll though the screens and look for it). Once you have a 100+ apps installed, finding them gets slower and slower. It would be much better if Siri just let you say things like “Launch TomTom” (useful in the car when on hands free).

      • marmaduke25

        just swipe left from the home screen to reveal spotlight search and start typing tom…, face… or whatever. Way faster

      • http://www.nickgilbert.com Nick Gilbert

        Moot point as you can now launch apps with Siri :)

  • http://twitter.com/oh_bollocks c

    I agree with Mile, althought this is a cool short cut that I never knew about, you still need your finger to launch the app!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shu-Tse/100003031122741 Shu Tse

      Woman like to be touched, shows them you care

  • Anonymous

    Haven’t tried this yet, but by customizing the category name, then Siri could handle everything via voice; ie home, work, other > friends, yammer, etc. So if you’re driving you can use Siri to voice control more of iOS. Possibly even post to Facebook ? Can Siri press a button ? Just thinkin’

    Cheers

    • http://twitter.com/RyanLV Ryan Gagen

      Actually, on the latest Apple Byte podcast in iTunes, they show you a neat little workaround that enables you to have Siri post tweets and update your facebook status using text messages and contacts, check it out.

      • Anonymous

        Where? Can you post a link?

  • http://twitter.com/jobbogamer Josh Sunshine

    I can confirm that there’s no way to do this using Siri. If you ask to open a contact’s URL, Siri says “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
    It was a great idea in theory, but in practice it just doesn’t work. It’s probably down to security.

    • Mike Petra

      You didn’t follow the instructions. I can’t get it to work anyway, Even following the instructions.

  • Mike Petra

    Hey, I just put in the YouTube shortcut and it worked. YouTube:// I created a contact called shortcuts and put this command in the homepage line. then as instructed above I said open shortcuts, then just tapped on the link and YouTube opened.

    • Mike Petra

      Other ones that I just tried and they work are: yelp://, Skype://, Pandora:// , Tango://

      • Mike Petra

        Spindhound://

      • Mike Petra

        Sound hound://

      • Mikail Graham

        any idea as to how create one for the native Gmail app? I’ve got it working for GV Mobile and the Pulse RSS reader for example but cannot figure out what is needed to launch Gmail?

        tried gmail:// & Gmail:// both with a no go… all I can figure is it must be named something else… or?

      • Anonymous

        See my comment regarding URL’s, Texts and Emails, it might help you

      • Tom Scogland

        realize this is old, but the url is googlegmail://

  • Anonymous

    worthless. I still have to press something to launch the app.

  • Anonymous

    Oktried searching the net for various URL they are not easy to come by

  • Anonymous

    Ok! I’ve done this, its not that bad, here are some tips using the “my shortcut”
    First of all searching the web for URL’s… They don’t seem readily available on the net unless someone can point me in the right direction, so here are a few in my shortcuts that have not been already mentioned in the original article.
    twitter://
    skygo://
    eBay: ( no // on this one)
    comgoogleearth://
    soundhound://
    pandora://
    navigon://
    Second, Siri is great for sending a quick email or text message but if a longer message is required Siri is probably not the best idea. So here’s how to get around this problem.
    Text message.
    Use the shortcut sms:// (in original artical)
    Open this by tapping on it.
    Now here’s the clever bit, use the integrated dictation function on the left hand side of the space bar to dictate the text. Now I dictate 5-10 words then stop, check that all is right, think about my next sentence, then go again, repeat until ur essay is done!
    Tip use words like “fullstop” “exclamation mark” “comma”
    Email.
    Now I haven’t found a URL for Email, but I use this alternative clever trick
    In your contact “my shortcut” you will have all your URL list, now above where you put all your URL’s other boxes for putting mobile numbers in email addresses in ect.
    In the email section put in anything you like, I’ve put 123.
    Now when you ask Siri to open “my shortcuts” you will have all the list of URL’s but at the top of the list “123″ will be there, tap that and it will open an email.
    Delete “123″ (dictate or type) your recipients name.
    Then as I explained above with the Text dictate away!
    Hope this helps

  • http://www.tmart.com/iPhone-Cases/ iPhone 4 cases

    in this case from your iPhone application, will be sent (along with other data) to a website that will take that message and process it. If you have a custom website you (or a developer) would create a part of the site that will accept the “Posted Message” and process it for use in any way you see fit.

  • http://twitter.com/moonman239 My Autism Recovery

    Don’t forget pandora://

  • http://www.facebook.com/elygolden Ely Golden

    Redundant. iOS 6 allows opening of apps in Siri. Any app.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elygolden Ely Golden

    But I like URL schemes anyway