As of iOS 13, you can have your iPhone read out incoming iMessages through your AirPods. And this — along with their awesome sound and noise-canceling abilities — is my favorite feature of the AirPods Pro. On paper, it’s a small feature in a long list. But in everyday use, Announce Messages with Siri makes a huge difference in how I use my iPhone.
AR for messages
If you want to know how to set up Announce Messages with Siri, we have a how-to dedicated to the subject. Announce Messages with Siri works with headphones containing Apple’s H1 chip — the AirPods Pro, the second-gen regular AirPods and Powerbeats Pro.
All it does is read out your incoming iMessages, after playing a little jingle and lowering the volume of any music or podcasts you’re listening to. But that’s enough.
Imagine you’re walking down the street, enjoying music or a podcast. A message comes in, and you hear the alert. If you have it set up right, your customized alert will even let you know who the message is from. But still, you have to stop walking, then pull your iPhone out of your pocket, and either read the lock-screen alert or unlock the iPhone to read the full message.
Obviously, this isn’t a major inconvenience, but in the day-to-day flow of things, it all adds up. And if someone keeps sending messages while you walk, it gets frustrating very fast. Even if you’re one of those phone zombies who walks along while using their phone, it’s still a pain.
Easy replies with Siri
Now, with Announce Messages with Siri, you can listen to the messages as they come in. Siri is pretty great at reading stuff these days, so it sounds more like a human reading your messages to you than a robot generating speech from text. And if you like, you can reply using Siri, although I prefer to pull out my iPhone for replies.
Maybe I should try out the Siri replies capability, though. After Siri reads you a message, it waits for your response, so you don’t need to use the “Hey Siri” keyphrase. Just speak your reply, and it’ll be sent (with or without confirmation — you can choose in Settings).
The result of all this is that you can have an iMessage conversation as you walk, without ever touching your iPhone or even your Apple Watch. I absolutely love it, and I get very few messages. If I got a lot of communications, I’d probably find it even more useful. Especially as you can choose which messages Siri announces: Everyone, recents, all contacts or favorites.
Announce Messages with Siri also should be available to third-party apps, although few if any seem to have implemented it yet.
Augmented reality is already here
This all works so seamlessly that it’s almost like sci-fi. The computer talks to you, and you talk back to the computer. Forget about stupid augmented-reality glasses. AR is already here, and it’s in your AirPods. It is completely unobtrusive to the people around you. They don’t even see you using your phone. As for the convenience factor, it’s pretty good. But really, the best part is that you don’t have to change context. You just keep on doing whatever you were going, and listen. Then, only if you want to, you can reply, still without changing context. It’s as close to a real conversation as you can get, without actually having one.
After Announce Messages with Siri, what’s next?
Wearing your AirPods while talking to other people is still rude, even if the kids are already doing it. But what about bone-conduction built in to your glasses? I’d dig that. The biggest problem for AR is the barrier caused by wearing the necessary devices.
The Apple Watch makes alerts silent and invisible with its haptic taps, but to hear or see something, you need some kind of speaker and some kind of display. It’s a hard problem, but Apple has done a pretty good job of this so far. In fact, after writing this article, I’m more excited for Apple’s take on AR. It can’t just be a pair of virtual-reality specs, can it? Let’s hope it’s something as great as the AirPods Pro.