Your smartphone's voice-activated personal assistant can do much more than you might think. Most people use Google Now, Cortana and Siri to do quick online searches without having to type. Some people use them to set alarms and add events to their calendars. But after reading this article you'll be able to use the full suite of hidden features.
Firstly, get to grips with your personal assistant
Activate Google Now by saying "OK Google" and following up with a command or question. If voice commands aren't turned on, open the Google app or tap your search bar. Then customise Google Now by tapping the burger icon (☰) and selecting Settings.
Activate Cortana by opening your search box and tapping the microphone. Then simply say your command or ask a question. If you then open the Settings menu you can turn on the option to have Cortana respond any time you say "Hey Cortana".
Activate Siri by holding down the Home button. When the screen changes, simply say your command or ask a question. You can even do this when your phone is locked.
Now discover the hidden features
The features you get depend on which personal assistant you have and how up to date it is. Try all of these to see what's available.
1. Find a specific photo in your album
Say: "Show me photos I took in September last year."
Or: "Show me selfies I took in Spain."
2. Set location-based reminders
Say: "Remind me when I get to work to email John."
Or: "Remind me when I'm next in London to go to Tower Bridge."
3. Check the weather
Say: "What will the weather be like in Exeter tomorrow?"
Or: "Do I need an umbrella today?"
4. Get directions
Say: "Directions to Sainsbury's by foot."
Or: "Where is Stonehenge?"
Or: "What are some attractions around here?"
5. Find out what song is playing wherever you are
Say: "What song is playing?"
6. Work out a tip
Say: "What's the tip for £50?"
Or: "What's 15% of £125?"
7. Track information from your emails
Say: "Where's my package?"
Or: "Show me my receipts."
Or: "Read me my most recent email."
8. Send hands-free messages
Say: "Text Linda 'Great episode last night, comma, did you see it, question mark'."
Say: "Send a WhatsApp message to Mum 'How are you'."
9. Give yourself a nickname
Say: "Call me 'Bugs Bunny' from now on."
Or: "You pronounced my name wrong."
10. Play songs or games you've downloaded
Say: "Play tic-tac-toe."
Or: "Play Hello by Lionel Richie."
Laugh at their witty responses
Your personal assistant has a big personality and loves to show it. Here are some of our favourite responses:
What is zero divided by zero?
Siri: "Imagine you have zero cookies and you split them among zero friends, how many cookies does each person get? See, it doesn't make sense and cookie monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends."
What is the meaning of life?
Cortana: "I've heard from a reliable source that the Answer is 42. But still no word on what the question is."
Who is your father?
Cortana: "Technically speaking, that'd be Bill Gates. No big deal."
Also try asking what their favourite movies are, saying "Guess what", and calling them by their competitors' names.
And if you're looking for a technology Christmas gift, why not try the Amazon Echo or Google Home? These personal assistants are standalone speakers that work in the same way as the one in your smartphone. You can place them around your home and ask them questions whenever you like.