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How to make the Apple Watch Raise to Speak feature work every time

The ability to just raise your wrist and speak to your Apple Watch without the words "Hey, Siri," is brilliant. What was initially a convenience is now increasingly useful, too, and yet it's extraordinarily unreliable. Here's how to make it better — and why you need it to.

We must call out the phrase "Hey, Siri," twenty times a day and there is not a single thing we don't like about it — except those words. The ability to have your iOS device send messages, tell you the news, answer calls, play music and countless more things, without even touching it is astounding. Having to prefix every single request with "Hey, Siri," is not.

If you're a heavy user of Siri, those words become a chore and you end up saying them so often that they turn to meaningless syllables that you rush through. Don't get us wrong, the idea of going back to pressing the Home button before you speak would be like returning to the Bronze Age.

Yet when Apple introduced Raise to Speak with watchOS 5, it was clearly the next step. Just raise your wrist, speak to your Watch and Siri would go do what you ask without you ever needing to say, "Hey, Siri." Okay, Siri might misunderstand you, but that's Siri, it's nothing to do with how you invoke it.

When it works

If there's anything more exasperating than Siri offering to send a text to your ex instead of playing the "Texas Essentials" playlist on Apple Music, it's Raise to Speak doing nothing at all.

Before we were driven to figure this problem out, we were getting Raise to Speak reacting perhaps one out of twenty times. In regular use, we quickly got to the stage where we didn't bother and instead just always said, "Hey, Siri," regardless.

Now after practicing an awful lot, we're getting it working about nineteen out of twenty times.

How to do it

You do have to have this feature switched on or you'll be fruitlessly shouting into your Watch forever. On the Watch, go to Settings, scroll to General and tap on Siri. If your Watch can do this, so if it's a Series 4 or later one, then you'll have a Raise to Speak option.

You have to set up Raise to Speak before you can use it. Only Series 4 or later have this setting, though.

Switch that on and many happy hours of trying to get it work lie ahead of you.

The trick is to remember that the Watch is not listening out all the time. It will listen for "Hey, Siri," as soon as you turn your wrist, but that's not Raise to Speak.

Clearly, given the name, it's no surprise that you have to raise your arm in order to make this work. It's the specific motion and perhaps also positioning that makes the Watch start listening to what you're saying.

However, what is surprising is just how much you have to raise your arm. We find that it works most consistently when you raise it so high that the Watch is in front of your face.

It seems to help most if the Watch face is close to perpendicular to the ground. Raise it and tilt the Watch so that it is directly face-on to you, and then it works.

You have to raise it and start speaking pretty much immediately, but as you do so, you will get the screen changing to show the words "What can I help you with?" and the Siri symbol reacting to your voice.

Basically, act like you're about to start dancing an Argentine Tango and you're sorted.

Your first clue that Raise to speak is working is when the Watch changes from your regular face (left) to listening to what you're saying (right).
Your first clue that Raise to speak is working is when the Watch changes from your regular face (left) to listening to what you're saying (right).


Compare that to how you can just turn your wrist enough to light the screen and then say "Hey, Siri." That always works and it always works quickly and you can do it without even raising your arm an inch.

As much as we like the idea of never saying that trigger phrase again, and as much as we will never change our mind about wanting that some day, we haven't got it now. Not effectively, not practically.

Which is more than a pity, it's increasingly a hindrance. Even when watchOS 5 was officially released to the public in September 2018, it was highly likely that you had many devices that could react to "Hey, Siri."

It was remarkably easy to have a situation where you're in a place with an iPhone, an iPad and even a Mac that are all listening out for the words. Then, of course, you could also have a HomePod or do, and the only difference with those is that they have better microphones. We have been two rooms away, talking to our Apple Watches, and the HomePod has reacted instead.

Consequently, we might, for instance, successfully set an alarm on our Apple Watch but the HomePod in our office is set too.

Left: using Hey, Siri. Right: using Raise to Speak. It doesn't look like much of a difference, but when you use Siri a lot, it really is.
Left: using Hey, Siri. Right: using Raise to Speak. It doesn't look like much of a difference, but when you use Siri a lot, it really is.

Then we got AirPods 2 and now the very devices in our ears are listening out for the trigger phrase.

As good as these devices are at checking with each other and trying to reason which one you meant to call out to, they get it wrong. If you're wearing AirPods 2 and for some reason decide to say "Hey, Siri," into your Apple Watch, then the Watch, the AirPods and those nosy, eavesdropping HomePods are likely to respond.

All of that goes away when Raise to Speak works reliably. Use that to ask Siri something on your Apple Watch and no other device you've got will ever wrongly respond — because none of them will even hear you.

The future

Apple is reportedly working on extending Raise to Speak and finding more ways for us to interact with our Watches by voice without the trigger phrase.

Ultimately, it would be great if you could cease ever having to say "Hey, Siri" again. To anything. It won't happen, and Raise to Speak won't get better enough to be useable, unless the devices always listen to everything we ever say.

Apple's not going to do that, not when there are such security issues around it.

Only, as good as Siri is and can be, there aren't that many things you can ask it or that many different ways you can put the same question. Perhaps Apple could have it listen for a number of specific phrases, not just this one.

Perhaps Apple could let us choose our own phrase to invoke Siri. It's already taken a step toward that with the way that you can record any phrase you like to trigger a Siri Shortcut.

True, we're an ungrateful bunch. The ability to talk to any device and have it ever understand you in any way is less computer science and more alchemy. It was the impossible dream for such a long time, and now it's an everyday or even every hour occurrence.

We just want more, and we don't want to have to strike a pose to make Raise to Speak work.

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