We all know who Siri is: she’s Apple’s personal digital assistant on iOS 6 and iOS 7, now also a he if you prefer a male voice.
You can ask Siri to do things on your iPhone for you, like give directions, tell you the weather, the time, make a Twitter entry, give you the number of your dentist or enable and disable settings on your phone. Stuff like that. You can even chat with her, if you’re patient, a bit like Samantha in the movie Her. (But you still can’t make Siri your girlfriend, sorry.)
Mac users have long wondered when they would get Siri for their desktops, but Apple has seen fit to make us wait. Maybe they’ll add her in OS XI, or some other update, but not quite yet.
Those of us impatient with Apple can settle for Sinus first.
Sinus? Isn’t that a part of your nose? What the hell kind of name is that?
It may be named after an often troubled part of your nasal structure, but it’s also your English-language personal assistant for OS X. At least for now.
It’s a small file, under 4MB, and easy to download. You have to enable Dictation first on your Mac though, otherwise you’ll have deal with Sinus by writing to it in Silent Mode, which kind of defeats the purpose. Enabling Dictation takes a bit of work, and you have to download something big from the Apple server if you’ve never activated it before, a 784MB file, or something similar. Once that’s done though, it’s clear sailing from there.
Sinus uses whatever Voice you have enabled in your Mac, and the process is similar to talking with Siri, down to the wavy line at the bottom of the window that wiggles when you speak to her/him. You enable Dictation by using a pre-determined key (the default is pressing the Fn key twice to turn it on and off), and just talk to it in a normal voice, and issue commands and questions.
Sinus works fast enough, and issues responses quickly, if incorrectly sometimes (well, most of the time, actually; maybe it still has to get used to my diction and pronunciation, I’ve just had it since the weekend). It does require an internet connection, like Siri, to operate properly. It also doesn’t work properly if Enhanced Dictation is enabled in System Preferences/Dictation & Speech, so you’d better turn that off if you want to try and converse with Sinus.
It asks for permission to access your Contacts, location and other things on your Mac, and it gives you information if asked, like the time, contact info, calling up the Google Maps website on Safari to show you how to get to a certain address if you ask, make it do a Spotlight search, set Reminders, tell you the latest news, and, after a fashion, have a rudimentary, basic chat.
In practice though, Sinus is still undergoing some difficulties; its comprehension is somewhat, well, clogged—it often makes mistakes, has trouble figuring out inflection and often has problems with simple, basic questions like What’s your name? But it gets it eventually.
I have some concern about Sinus and its grammar, which is somewhat questionable sometimes, although it could be credited to awkward computer parsing of the English language. But you sometimes feel like you’re talking to someone who uses English as a distant second language. At this stage in its development, it’s more likely to just give you a Sinus headache. After all, it’s still in beta.
Sinus is working it’s way up to Version 1.0, and right now it’s at Version 0.9.1, which is why it’s not in the Mac App Store (or, more likely, it will never be because it’s a competing product). Still, you can download a preview if you want to try it out here.
Just don’t expect Siri on your Mac.
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