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Apple uses Siri Shortcuts to catch up to Alexa, Google Assistant

Shortcuts now works with thousands of apps.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

A look at Shortcuts integration with Kayak.

James Martin/CNET
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While Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant got busy over the past few years creating oodles of new skills and capabilities, Apple's Siri seemed to be asleep. Alexa came out with food delivery via voice commands back in early 2016. Siri, meanwhile, didn't offer the same feature until last year.

Considering that contrast, it's no secret Siri has fallen far behind its main competition in features and smart-home partners.

But, Apple has a plan to jump-start Siri and foster the same flurry of developer experimentation that made Alexa a hit. It's doing that through Siri Shortcuts, a feature it introduced at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June but didn't emphasize all that much during its presentation.

Shortcuts allows people to use Siri to control different iOS apps, letting folks take a selfie with their iPhones or get details on an upcoming flight all via voice commands.

Apple on Thursday announced a series of new app integrations with Siri Shortcuts, including Caviar (that's right, food delivery), Merriam Webster Dictionary and Airbnb. Those apps join thousands -- yes, thousands -- of others that are already connected to Siri thanks to Shortcuts.

Watch this: How to use Siri's Shortcuts app

SiriKit, another Siri software integration, is also available for usages that include messaging on WhatsApp, ride hailing on Uber, payments with PayPal and searching photos on Pinterest.

Apple's ability to bring together thousands of new features to Siri in a short amount of time should give the Siri ecosystem the shot in the arm it's needed. It also offers fresh competition for Alexa and Assistant, which have maintained comfortable spots as the No. 1 and 2 voice assistants. Apple has also found a way to integrate Siri into more connected appliances, like coffee makers, by bringing the Drop app to Shortcuts.

This strategy appears to focus squarely on Apple's strengths as one of the leading platforms for millions of mobile apps. The work to enhance Shortcuts could offer new hope for long-time Apple fans who have sought more from the company's digital helper. It also points to Apple's renewed focus on Siri, thanks in part to its hiring of John Giannandrea, Google's former AI chief, last April.

Apple still has a long way to go, particularly in the smart speaker market, where its HomePod speaker remains a pricier also-ran to the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Siri Shortcuts was integrated into a handful of places in iOS 12 to encourage people to use Siri much more frequently. Apple will now suggest new Siri Shortcuts for people to activate, such as setting a favorite sandwich order through Caviar or starting a word of the day notification through Merriam Webster. Those suggestions have been added to the search section and in Settings on iOS. They also appear within thousands of apps, too.

Apple said Thursday it added Siri Shortcuts from American Airlines, Dexcom, Caviar, Merriam Webster and Spectre. Coming in March and April will be Shortcuts from Airbnb, Drop, ReSound and Smarter. For Airbnb, for example, you'll be able to access details on your stay, including check in time, a map to your place and the Wi-Fi password, by setting up a Shortcut voice command like "Hey Siri, my Airbnb stay."

19 iOS 12 features you should be using now

See all photos

Those new integrations join thousands of other apps already onboard, including Waze, Nike Run Club, Seamless, Instacart, DSLR Camera, Pandora, Tile, Overcast, Evernote, Citymapper, Kayak, Hotels.com, British Airways, VRBO and The Weather Channel.

A new Siri Shortcuts app was also created to allow people to build more complex Shortcuts that can integrate both smart-home gear that works with Apple's HomeKit and apps that work with Siri. For example, a user can now tell Siri "Good morning" to open the blinds, turn on the coffee machine and hear the weather report.

Siri Shortcuts are available on the iPhone, iPad, HomePod, iPod Touch and Apple Watch.

Apple says Siri remains the most used assistant globally, thanks to its popular iPhone, with 500 million devices making 10 billion requests monthly. It appears those users will now have plenty more to talk to Siri about.