Battle of the Assistants: Google Now vs Siri

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Google Now and Siri are often pitted against one another even though each digital assistant are designed to do slightly different things. Both can serve as an assistant of sorts, but how useful they are to you will depend on your needs. Of course, everyone has different needs, but I've found Google Now to be far and away more useful than Siri and here is why...

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A quick primer on Google Now and Siri for those who aren't yet acquainted with each. Google Now was first introduced in Android 4.1 and is an extension of Google search; Google Now scans your Gmail, takes note of your habits, monitors your location, and provides information tailored by these sources. Information offered can be things like the traffic you can expect on your morning commute or notification the package you ordered should be delivered today.

Siri was first introduced in iOS 5 and first supported on the iPhone 4S. This virtual voice-activated assistant can do things like set alarms, answer questions by verbal input, and serve up scheduled reminders, as well as create tweets for you. 

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I use Google Now on the Nexus 4 and Siri with the iPhone 5. I'm fortunate enough that in my line of work (I design mobile apps) I have access to an array of smartphones, offering me the unique opportunity to try and compare different operating systems and devices. After monitoring both Google Now and Siri over a span of time, here's how each compared performing similar tasks:

  • MAPS and TRANSIT: For all things related to maps and public transit, Google Now is the clear winner. Google Now consistently quickly figures out where my home base and destinations are (it will suggest locations for you to confirm) and provides a fairly accurate estimate of how long it will take me to get there without having to query the information. Google Now's predictive information service eliminates one additional step Siri requires with the additional of a superior mapping details. 

  • SEARCH: For looking things up online it's no surprise that Google Now has the advantage. Google Now proves better in accurately understanding what I'm saying, capable of returning more relevant information that usually takes several tries to obtain from; Siri's searches required additional search terms to bring up similar results.  If you're curious about how these two compare with the same voice commands side by side, video comparisons are plentiful.

  • REMINDERS: When it comes to reminding you of meetings and events, each technology ranked similar. Both allow users to create reminders which cause the alarm/alert on the phone to go on off at the time you set. The steps to create a reminder though more often than not take longer on Siri, as it takes each chunk of information separately. First you say "remind", then Siri asks about "what", you let Siri know what you're asking to be reminded of, and then she asks "when", then you finally confirm.

    With Google Now you can just use natural language to say something like "remind me to finish this post in 30 minutes," and it will understand this and create the reminder which you have an opportunity to cancel or confirm (waiting a few seconds will also confirm). Out of the 5 times I tried to get Siri to remind me to call Dad, only once was I able to accomplish this in one sentence without using the multi-step process mentioned above.
As a regular online shopper who travels heavily both domestically and internationally, and is more than a little forgetful, Google Now is a huge winner. I find Google's assistant helpful for it's multi-tasking compatibility: looking up products online, sorting through my email, or finding the info about several apps on my iPhone I can learn at a glance without even asking for. Google Now can show me my boarding passes, the time at home when I'm traveling in a different time zone, and the current exchange rate when the currency of wherever I've landed.

Google Now also lets me know when a package is on its way and it reminds me of events I purchased tickets for and forgot to create a calendar reminder. Another awesome feature is Google Now tracks my activity so if I forget to wear my fitness wristband or track my biking with an app, I can still see a summary of my walking and biking activity. Can I dictate a message with it though? No, and to be honest I'm ok with that. Did I have to make a decision to trust Google? Yes, but since I've been a Gmail user for years and a Chrome devotee, this wasn't exactly a big leap to make.

Diehard iOS user, wish you had Google Now too? Well, rumor has it you won't have to wait too long.

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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