WWDC 2021 screenshot

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s iOS 18 update includes a new accessibility feature that’s perfect for anyone who wants easier access to their saved shortcuts. Called Vocal Shortcuts, it lets you set a custom word that, when spoken, will launch a specified shortcut. It’s perfect for power users and people with accessibility needs alike.

Apple first announced the feature back in May 2024. In a press release, the company said: “With Vocal Shortcuts, iPhone and iPad users can assign custom utterances that Siri can understand to launch shortcuts and complete complex tasks.” The company didn’t reveal anything else about the feature at the time, but now that iOS 18 is available as a developer beta, we can get a better idea of how it works.

For instance, you might want to launch a specific app simply by saying its name. Or you could use a more precise phrase (like “edit a photo”) to launch a set of actions that you’ve previously saved as a shortcut.

At the WWDC 2024 where Apple unveiled iOS 18, a lot of attention was spent on how Siri was getting a major revamp thanks to artificial intelligence. The company never mentioned Vocal Shortcuts, but it could turn out to be one of the best changes coming to Siri for a wide range of people.

Siri finds its voice

A hand holding an iPhone showing the new Siri

(Image credit: Apple)

If this feature sounds strangely familiar to you, you’re not far off the mark. Before iOS 18, you were able to launch shortcuts using your voice, but this process involved more steps. You would have to first invoke Siri, then say the name of the shortcut you wanted to run. If your device was locked, Siri would ask you to unlock it first before the shortcut could be launched.

Now, none of that applies. You don’t need to say “Siri” or “Hey Siri” to use Vocal Shortcuts. As well as that, you can say a custom phrase instead of being limited to the name of the shortcut, while it even works when your device is locked (provided your shortcut doesn’t require your device to be unlocked, such as opening an app).

That makes it far more convenient to control your Apple product using just your voice. Whether you want a way to launch a shortcut when your iPhone is on the other side of the room, or you have accessibility needs that make using your voice the best way to manage an iPhone, iPad or Mac, Vocal Shortcuts will likely be a welcome addition to your device, especially in combination with the other accessibility tools coming in iOS 18.

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Together with the wide-ranging AI features coming in iOS 18, it looks like Siri might finally be getting the overhaul it’s desperately needed for years. It’ll be fascinating to see if it’s enough to catch up with Apple’s rivals.

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Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he’s learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That’s all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.

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