Move over Siri: How to charge your iPhone with hidden voice commands

As many know, iPhones are amazingly powerful little computers. Many iPhone users have adopted them as their primary tools, and often take them everywhere. Speaking in person, my iPhone never leaves my side. I stopped taking her to bed as a way to make sure I don’t anxiously check email at night. But I still take it everywhere else.

Nothing (except potentially from my Apple Watch), and nobody, spends more time with me than my iPhone. If you have one, it will likely be similar to yours.

Siri, of course, is always there, too. But Siri has its limits. iPhones with Siri became even more capable when iOS 13 added shortcuts. Like ZDNetAdrian Kingsley-Hughes shows, Siri can’t click the shutter button on the iPhone camera, but the shortcut can click.

Voice dictation is another voice input mode. This is often initiated by tapping the small microphone on the onscreen keyboard when you enter text on the iPhone. But out of the box, iPhone dictation has its limitations. For example, if you want to replace incorrectly parsed text, this Apple Support note recommends that you “double-click it, tap the microphone button, say it again, and tap the keyboard button.” This is not a completely hands-free solution, which is annoying because new, corrected text often begins with a capital letter.

As it turns out, there is an incredibly powerful audio input mode that’s hidden from most users because it’s turned off by default.

Voice control input

This feature is simply called Voice Control, and before we show you how to enable it, let’s discuss just some of the things it can do. Let’s start with the text replacement problem we looked at in the previous paragraph.

Anywhere before you had to use your hand to tap, tap delete and re-spel the word, now all you have to do is say ‘correct it’. You can also say, “Replace the ball court with the ball game.” There’s “lowercase”, “uppercase”, “delete previous sentence”, “delete next 4 lines”, and more.

You also get full control of the device, including the ability to say things like “swipe up,” “swipe down,” “lock screen,” “swipe up,” “swipe down,” and much more. There is no activation keyword or button to press. Just say it, and the phone does it. My favorite is Take a Screenshot.

Voice control is part of the accessibility options in iOS and iPadOS and is designed for people with disabilities to be able to use the phone’s touch features. As such, Apple has made possible the ability to control every part of the touch interface by voice. They do this by optionally displaying a name or number on each tangible object or grid on the entire screen.

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As you can see, each rating mechanism allows users to select the items that appear on the screen and verbally “click” on them. Each mechanism has its own advantages. You may want to use numbers in one case, names in another, and grid on something like a drawing where the names and numbers don’t pick up the point where you want to start a sonic click.

Terms such as “continuous display grid” and “continuous grid display” turn these features on and off, with the “continuously” parameter used to keep the prompt display visible after the action is completed.

You can say things like “click on number” or “swipe left”, “swipe left” using the item name, and even “rotate right” and “rotate left” followed by the name of the item or number.

To see which commands work with Voice Control, start by saying, “What can I say?” iMore has an excellent comprehensive list of all commands. Just point your browser there to see all that’s available.

Enable voice control on your phone

Not only is voice control not turned on by default, but the code that turns on voice control is also not installed on your phone. Go to the Accessibility menu, scroll down to Voice Control, then flip the toggle to On to enable Voice Control. There will be a slight delay while the code is downloading and installing, after which you will have full access to the voice control.

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You’ll know that Voice Control is enabled when there’s a little blue microphone icon at the top of your screen.

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Additional Features

You can turn on and off the commands that the voice control listens to. This is in Accessibility->Voice Control->Customize Commands. I’ve turned off most of the visual commands but left the rich dictation editing commands turned on because I use the dictation feature a lot on my iPhone. I also left the scroll commands turned on because I sometimes work in the workshop with a tool in one hand while reading instructions on the phone with the other hand. Voice scrolling makes it possible without having to neglect a working project.

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Another powerful feature greatly expands your iPhone’s automation capabilities beyond shortcuts: you can create custom commands. This tech note from Apple shows you how to do it. Once created, you can use this custom voice command to perform any action or set of actions, including gestures, run a short script, and record and play a series of actions.

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Have you used Voice Control before? Did you know that it was a feature of the iPhone? Now that you know it’s available, do you think you’ll enable it? If you have used it or plan to use it now that you know about it, feel free to comment below.

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