Get a taste of Siri on your Mac right now with this neat trick

By , Mar 1, 2016


Ever since Siri was announced in 2011, Apple users have been excited about the prospect of the digital assistant coming to OS X. More recently, rumors have indicated that a Mac version of Siri will ship with OS X 10.12 this fall. September is quite a long way off, but it’s possible to get a taste of Siri-like voice commands on your Mac right now, thanks to the accessibility features baked in OS X.

While this method doesn’t provide an integrated version of Siri’s ability to check the weather or pull the latest sports scores, it’s possible to give your Mac a variety of orders such as “Open iTunes”, “Quit Messages”, or “New tab” – all spoken commands that will be performed without any mouse or keyboard input. All these commands are preceded by a keyword phrase, the default being “Computer”, which works similarly to iOS’s “Hey Siri” prompt in that it informs the always-listening computer that you’re ready to give a command. To see a few examples, check out the demonstration video below.

Enabling voice commands

  1. To get started, navigate to System Preferences in your Applications folder or by searching for it in Spotlight, and open the Accessibility pane, scrolling all the way to the bottom of the list on your left and selecting Dictation. Your Mac needs to have Dictation enabled for this to work.
  2. Check the box beside “Enable the dictation keyword phrase”.

System-Preferences-Accessibility-Dication-enable-keyword -phrase

And that’s all it takes to begin using phrases such as “Computer, search Spotlight for pictures from this week” and have your Mac carry out your commands. You can change the “Computer” keyword to whatever word or phrase you wish to use to initiate a voice command, and you can find more preset commands under the “Dictation Commands…” button.

Adding custom commands

You don’t have to stick to OS X’s built-in commands, either. New, custom commands can be added to expand the functionality well beyond the defaults, and these actions can be greatly enhanced when paired with apps such as Alfred.

  1. To add a custom command, begin by opening “Dictation Commands…” from the Accessibility pane’s Dictation tab and clicking the + towards the bottom left of the menu.
  2. A form will appear in which you can choose the command phrase used to trigger the action.
  3. Next, decide whether to only enable this command within a certain application or to allow it to run anywhere in OS X.
  4. Below that, users can choose what action is executed when the command is giving. Options range from opening URLs to pasting pre-defined text to invoking a keyboard shortcut – the possibilities are limitless.


A few command suggestions

Besides the examples demonstrated in the above video, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the personalization users can do with this features. Here are a few additional suggestions:

  • Pasting commonly used text such as a generic email reply or address information
  • Executing Command+Shift+3 to take a screenshot
  • Running an Automator app that been built to perform a series of actions
  • Pasting any pre-defined data such as a photo or other file
  • Opening a commonly accessed folder in Finder

And there are countless more combinations of actions that can be carried out using third-party apps such as Alfred that allow users to do virtually anything imaginable. No longer is it necessary to remember complex keyboard shortcuts – just use plain English to tell your Mac to execute them.

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  • ArtieMack

    Now this is a great article with some little known facts and functionality built into OS X!

  • This is a great tip Timothy

  • Sohail Wahab

    One thing that can surprise me would be an offline version of Siri. Especially now that we have offline dictation on both Mac and iOS

  • angry3

    mmm, I don’t have the same window featured up there in step 2. I just have “Dictation Commands” box and nothing underneath. No option to enable dictation keyword phrase. I’m using Yosemite, is that only in El Capitan?

    • Michael C

      After several attempts, I got it to work. Click on Dictation Commands. Make sure to enable Dictation and to download “Enhanced Dictations.” Click on the “+” tab at the bottom left.

      Type in the box of “When I say” — the command you want to say, Let the “While Using” box selection of Any Application stay where it is at, and then directly open the app under “Open App” from the Perform box, then choose the application you want to open under dictation.

      Hit “fn” twice to open the dictation app and a microphone like small window will appear. Say your command and , hopefully if you did everything right, the app will open from your voiced command.

      Hit cancel when done or CMD + Q to quit. I hope this helps. Please correct me or this procedure for your own tailored needs. Thank you.

  • KarenJones303

    allow it to run anywhere in OS

  • Robert Goldberg

    This is great, had no idea of this functionality. Thank you!