Apple (AAPL 1.62%) was the first major player to introduce a voice-activated digital assistant when it launched Siri on the iPhone 4s. The company eventually fell behind Amazon, which has made bigger consumer inroads with Alexa, its Siri rival.
In reality, both digital assistants, and the scores of others offered by rival tech companies have struggled to be more than novelties. Sure, they can tell you the weather or set a timer, but they have largely failed to change how people go about their daily lives.
Now, in a nation under siege from the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, Apple has enlisted Siri to offer some help. The digital assistant can help you try to figure out if you might have COVID-19 or, as most people refer to it, just coronavirus.
What can Apple's Siri do?
"Hey Siri, do I have coronavirus?"
Ask the digital assistant that, and it pulls up a list of questions based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also works if you ask if you have COVID-19.
The assistant asks you if you have a fever, a dry cough, or trouble breathing? It then asks if you have been in close contact with someone who has had the virus.
If you answer negatively, Siri offers tips on washing your hands and social distancing. When customers report having symptoms, Siri suggests contacting a medical provider and offers a list of telemedicine apps you can use to get in touch with a doctor from home.
This isn't a revolutionary use for Siri but it's an important one. It also shows that the digital assistant has a lot of potential that Apple may eventually unlock.