Google Now vs Siri: Is the Gap Narrowing and Does it Matter?
The Great Debate
The quarreling over Google Now and Siri is well documented. Rather than forcing another side-by-side comparison down your throat, I'd like to look at the state of the two voice assistants on a larger scale.
I was inspired to write on this topic after reading the USA Today article released on December 10, 2013 reporting that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster found that Google Now responds to voice commands just as well as Siri. The question that came to mind, and that I'd like to explore here, is: How much does that really matter?
I have an iPad Air running iOS 7 (which includes Siri) and a Nexus 4 running Android 4.4.2 (which has Google Now). Before my Nexus 4, I used a Samsung Galaxy S2 running Android 4.3 (which also included Google Now) for about a year until it decided to stop turning on. I use both my iPad and Nexus 4 daily, but definitely use the Nexus 4 more. Consequently, I use Google Now much more often than Siri.
However, my wife has an iPhone 5 and before that had an iPhone 4S for about a year, so I've seen her use and react to Siri quite a bit. The majority of my experiences witnessing her use Siri has been during our (give or take) monthly 4 hour round trip drives to visit family.
All this being said, I feel that I am at least minimally qualified to write about the two voice assistants.
Which voice assistant do you prefer?
Voice Assistants in General
I feel that overall, these voice assistants are mostly gimmicky. It's not natural or convenient to walk around talking to a device. If you're going to have to hold a device, you might as well be using your fingers to input information.
There are exceptions of course (driving is the biggest one that comes to mind), but that's how I feel overall. It's possible that the move towards wearable tech like smartwatches and stuff like Google Glass will make voice commands more natural, but I believe it'll have the exact opposite effect since we're not used to wearing a clunky device on our wrists/heads.
The (Brief) Head-to-Head
So with that being said, I feel that Google Now is more useful overall. The reason has nothing to do with which recognizes or answers voice commands better (I feel that that is now a moot point). Rather, Google Now gets the nod due to the fact that it has the ability to learn from your past (if you allow it to delve into your personal data) and shows you applicable information in a dynamic way.
In addition, Google Now can now be launched from the home screen by saying "Ok Google" on the Nexus 5, allowing you to access the voice assistant completely hands free. This is a particularly attractive feature to those that spent a lot of time driving.
Siri is lagging behind as it still tries to be the best at responding to voice commands - something that I don't feel has been adopted by many as a useful tool. I definitely don't believe it has transformed the way we use phones like many thought it would. It still feels like a gimmick.
The fact that people like the analyst mentioned in the USA Today article are now finding/claiming that Google Now and Siri both perform similarly in responding to voice commands accurately just shows me that companies are starting to catch up and even surpass Apple. That being said, fussing over which responds better to 800 questions, the majority of which I will probably never ask (stuff like "How far is it from Tokyo to the Moon?" that inevitably show up on those Siri vs Google Now comparisons), seems pointless.
Another thing to consider is that Google seems to be innovating, while Apple buys innovative technologies from others (Siri and TouchID both are products that originated from companies Apple bought). Since both strategies result in innovative products, this perhaps shouldn't make a significant factor in deciding which is best. However, I think it might say something about the future success of each company.
One area where I do feel that Siri wins is in talking back. I have found in my use of Google Now that it is difficult to carry on a conversation with Google's voice assistant. When you want to ask multiple questions you'll have to repeat the "Ok Google" keyword each time you're ready to ask a question.
Siri vs. Google Now - See the two voice assistants in action.
For those of you looking for a head-to-head comparison video.
The Bottom Line
The real difference maker to me personally is the price for the hardware that runs the respective voice assistants. Google released the Nexus 5 about a month ago, which, for the most part, comes with top of the line specs (especially now that the issues with the camera have been resolved in the 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 updates). It also comes factory unlocked for $350 with no contract. Apple (and any other company, for that matter) will never beat that, in my opinion. If my phone would have broke down two weeks later than it did I would be using a Nexus 5 now instead of a Nexus 4, even though I'm happy with last years model.
If price isn't an issue for you, I still feel like Google Now is the winner over Siri since it seems to provide more useful information at the right time. Additionally, Google seems to have a more innovative mentality recently, rather than just improving products they've already developed like Apple.
That being said, many people will still cling to their precious Apple devices and Siri will come as part of that package. The fact that the Google app for iOS now gives you access to most of the features of Google Now might also be a factor in your decision. I'm obviously still partially under their spell, seeing as that I was lured into upgrading to an iPad Air from my iPad 3 (or "New iPad").
Google's latest and greatest attempt at an iPad killer.