When Apple first introduced Siri in 2011 with the iPhone 4S, the world was understandably impressed. Siri was advertised as your very own robotic assistant app.
Although the early versions of Siri had limited capabilities and were mostly used as party tricks (“hey, watch me have a conversation with my iPhone”), today’s Siri is something special.
Today, iOS 7’s Siri is better than ever before. It also has a very legitimate competitor in Android 4.3’s Google Now, also known as Google voice search. But which personal assistant app is better? Which one is more useful?
ExtremeTech.com set out to answer that question by asking an iPad and an Android tablet the same questions side by side. The results are interesting and they illustrate the exact differences between the way both services handle voice requests:
Notable differences between Siri and Google Now
I don’t know about you, but one of the few times I use my Google Now voice search is when I’m in the car and don’t want to look at my phone while in traffic. I ask my phone to play a certain song by a certain band and it’s usually pretty good at finding it. In the video above, both Siri and Google Now did a great job of playing the requested song.
Data based searches
When asked ‘how many moons there are in the solar system’, Google Now found the correct webpage and began reading out the data to the user, while Siri asked Wolfram Alpha and suggested pages which may have held the right answer.
In a similar data-based search, both Siri and Google Now were asked to find the number of milliliters in four gallons. Both came up with the correct response, although Google presented the data in an easy-to-read way and did so more quickly. Because Google has a built-in calculator and iOS searches through a third-party service, Wolfram Alpha, Google Now tended to return math-based results like this more quickly.
In the third data request, the user asked who the third man on the moon was. Siri didn’t understand the question, while Google Now nailed it.
The main difference here is in where Siri and Google Now get their information. Google Now gets it from Google, while Siri uses Bing and Wolfram Alpha. In most tests, Google outperforms both of these services.
Winner: Google Now
One of the first requests in the video is for email. The user asks both services to send an email with a certain subject and certain body. Both Siri and Google Now nailed this request perfectly. The only difference is that Google Now required physical input to send the message while Siri asked for voice confirmation.
“Tell me about…” requests
If you ask a general knowledge question to both Siri and Google Now, you’ll find that each voice service is built to handle those requests. Siri opens up the first paragraph of a Wikipedia entry while Google Now brings up an info card that contains mostly Wikipedia information as well as related search results below.
“What song is this…?”
Apps like Shazam still blow my mind. Google Now has built-in song detection, which means you can ask it what song is playing and it will tell you. Siri does not yet have this feature built in, and in the head to head test, Siri told the user the last song that was played on the iPad – not the song that was actually playing right now.
Winner: Google Now
The user requested directions to the science museum. Siri asked the user for more specific data and spit out a list of specific buildings at the St. Paul, Minnesota science museum. Google Now, on the other hand, jumped right into the navigation screen in Google Maps and took the user to the correct building.
Of course, since Apple Maps is still playing catch up to Google Maps in terms of features and correct navigation information, Google Now would have likely still beat Apple after the correct location was chosen.
Winner: Google Now
The user asked “is it going to rain on Saturday?” and both Siri and Google Now accurately returned results while also reading out forecast information for that date. You could argue that Google Now presents weather data in a more colorful and easy-to-read way than iOS 7, which doesn’t have pictures of suns or any color besides black, white and grey.
Each personal assistant has its own unique advantages. Siri is great at actually talking to you like a normal human being (although both apps will happily tell you a joke). When it comes to searching for information and data though, Google Now is vastly superior to Siri. Why? Well, due to Apple’s hatred/fear of Google, Apple draws its web results from Bing unless you specifically say ‘Google [something]’.
Google Now is also better at actually displaying data in a colorful and easy-to-read way. That may seem insignificant, but I think it’s very important. If I’m using voice recognition, it probably means I’m in a position where I can’t touch my smartphone or spend much time looking at it – like cooking in the kitchen or driving the car. Having data that can easily be read in under a second is helpful.
Google Now wins
But let’s agree on something
My favorite part of the above video is that the user wasn’t particularly careful about his wording and sentence structure. Instead, he was just talking to his tablets like you would ask a friend a question. Instead of saying, “weather forecast”, for example, he said “Is it going to rain on Saturday?”
Whether you’re an iOS fan or an Android fan, I think we can all agree that talking to your devices like a normal human being is undeniably cool. Where’s this tech going to be ten years from now?
A big thanks to Ryan Whitwam of ExtremeTech for creating the video shown above.