Your smartphone’s artificially intelligent assistant can provide almost any fact on demand, from the capital of France to the number of bananas in a loaf of banana bread. But this app does much more than answer random trivia questions. It can also organize your life, adjust your phone’s settings, control smart gadgets, play music, and more.
This guide will focus on how to use these features with Siri on iOS and Google Assistant on Android. Other AI assistants—such as Bixby for Samsung phones and Microsoft’s Cortana for iOS and Android—offer similar abilities, so many of these instructions will also apply to them. However, this guide won’t help you as much with the mobile version of Alexa. Although Amazon has Alexa apps for iOS and Android, you’ll need a smart speaker to take full advantage of its capabilities.
To get started, fire up your app. For Siri, press and hold the Home button, or on the iPhone X, press and hold the Side button (the one on the right). In order to bring up the Google Assistant interface on stock Android, press and hold the Home button. Then get ready to put your phone’s AI through its paces.
Set reminders, alarms, and timers
If you had a real-life personal assistant, he could help you stay on task by reminding you about the tasks you need to do and keeping you on schedule. A mobile AI does the same thing by making it much easier to set reminders, alarms and timers.
To make sure you don’t forget an item on your to-do list, have your AI assistant remind you about it. Tell your phone, “Remind me to…” or “Set a reminder for…” to create the note. Then decide whether you’d like to receive the reminder at a specific date and time, or when you travel to a specific location. Either specify this trigger in your original command, or wait for Siri or Google Assistant to prompt you for this information. For example, you could say, “Remind me to buy flowers at 7am tomorrow,” or “Remind me to buy flowers when I’m at the grocery store.”
For a less specific nudge, you can set an alarm without bothering to delve into your phone’s clock app. Say to Siri or Google Assistant, “Set an alarm for…” followed by a time and optionally a date or day of the week.
On an alarm-related note, your AI also excels at quickly setting touch-free timers. So if you’re cooking and don’t want to smudge your greasy fingerprints all over your phone or oven, then tell your assistant, “Set a timer for…” any number of minutes, hours, or even days.
Adjust phone settings
Sure, you could spend precious time sifting through your phone’s menus to adjust that one little setting. Or you could save time and effort by having your AI buddy do it for you.
For example, a voice order can immediately and easily adjust your network connections. Simply tell Siri or Google Assistant, “Turn on Bluetooth,” “Turn off Wi-Fi,” or vice versa.
You can use a “Turn on Airplane Mode” command to cut off all phone communication—but be aware that this will prevent Siri and Google Assistant from working, so when you’re ready to switch off Airplane Mode, you’ll have to do it manually. To avoid interruptions in a less restrictive way, activate Do Not Disturb mode, which mutes all incoming notifications, by saying “Turn on (or off) Do Not Disturb.”
If you’re running low on battery, try telling Siri, “Turn on low power mode,” or commanding Google Assistant, “Turn on battery saver.” This will make your phone minimize the amount of power it guzzles. Another useful command is “change wallpaper,” which takes you straight to the relevant screen on your handset.
You can also adjust the screen’s brightness and the audio’s volume vocally. Just say, “Increase (or decrease) brightness” or “Increase (or decrease) volume.”
These aren’t your only options for tinkering with your phone’s appearance and behavior. You can also jump straight to specific settings pages with handy commands like “Change wallpaper.”
To quickly launch an app without navigating through multiple rows of icons, have your assistant do it. Just say, “Open…” followed by the name of the app you want.
Voice commands can also perform simple in-app actions, although this only applies to certain programs. For instance, your assistant can search video or map apps if you say something like, “Show cat videos on YouTube,” or “Show directions to San Francisco.” You can also search for new apps to buy by stating, “Open the App Store” on iOS or “Open the Play Store” on Android. Within the store, iOS has an extra trick: Say “Show me productivity apps” or “Show me entertainment apps” to jump straight to any given category.
One app where voice commands are particularly useful is your camera. To snap a hands-free photo with the front-facing camera, say, “Take a picture”; to do so with the rear-facing one, say, “Take a selfie.” On Android, but not on iOS, you can also use voice commands to record a picture through a specific app like Instagram or Snapchat.
Speaking of the camera, both Siri and Google Assistant can pull up your photos from, respectively, the Photos app on iOS or the Google Photos app on Android. Both apps let you search for specific people or places within your albums. Your assistant will reward specificity. For example, try asking, “Show me my photos from New York” or “Show me my photos of Mom,” replacing the search terms with whatever places or people you actually want to find.
However, the assistant doesn’t automatically know what your friends and family look like, so you’ll have to do a little prep work before you successfully search for specific people. Take some time to hop through a few albums tagging people. Once it connects a name to an image, the AI will be able to spot the same face in other photos. To tackle this task in Photos on iOS, go to Albums > People; in Google Photos on Android, tap the search bar to see and confirm suggested faces.