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Why Google Now Beats Siri

For the past few years I’ve been using two phones every day. I am a bit of a phone nerd, so I normally like to get one of the latest Android devices and the newest iPhone. Having both devices gives me some sense for how the two platforms are developing and where I’m seeing cool app development.

It took me awhile to get Google Now on my Galaxy S3. I was curious to see how the service would work – the landing page made it sound too good to be true. I’ve had Siri on my phone for awhile and I honestly almost never use it. I do, though, use the voice-to-text translation for some web searches, email composition, and notes.

I just don’t find Siri to be an assistant in the way that I think of an assistant. An assistant should “save my rear end” on a regular basis by giving me information that’s timely and useful and makes my life easier. I think of Siri more as a natural language search interface to the data on my phone, including stuff that can be grabbed from the web. But for me to get value from Siri, I have to do something actively – come up with a query, ask Siri to play a song, send a text, etc. That’s not what I expect from an assistant.

My experience with Google Now has been totally different. Google Now just kind of sits in the background and does useful stuff for me when I turn it on. And it does lots of interesting and useful stuff without me having to do much. A few examples of things that made me smile when using Google Now:

  • Alerted me that a package I was expecting had shipped (something I had used Slice to do on my iPhone)
  • Alerted me when I should leave for meeting given the expected transit time from my current location (I’ve been using a variety of apps on my iPhone for that)
  • Automated travel updates for my flight, including one that was massively delayed today (like what I get from TripIt)

Google Now feels like magic to me. Like all magical products, all I did was turn it on – it didn’t ask me to authenicate to a bunch of services or identify a bucnh of data. It just started working and delivering value right away. Every day it seems to surprise me with a bit more useful info, largely because Google sits on top of all of this information already. I think Semil Shah summed up why it’s so magical in a short tweet:

  • Because Google sits on top of rich maps and traffic data and my calendar, Google can tell me when to leave for a meeting.
  • Because Google has access to my gmail account, they can peek in there and pull out useful information about order confirmations, shipments, purchases, or other email communications as the service gets smarter
  • Because Google can see my search queries, it can smart about what I’m thinking about doing or interested in at that moment, including sports, stocks, news, and anything else where I leave a digital query trail.

I think that Google Now is going to make things harder for some of the niche services I’ve seen focused around making my smartphone smarter by extracting information from my calendar and email. Not everyone has as tight a connection with Google as I do, so Google Now will not work for everyone as well as it does for me. But it’s a powerful product.

I’m not sure how easily Siri could replicate the functionality of Google Now unless Apple starts allowing Siri to execute actions in other applications or opens up an interface that allows app developers to Siri-enable their own services. That will take time and I suspect it still won’t feel as integrated because Apple does not control or own those services.

If Google is looking for more features on Android to market, Google Now is one of them – it really is good.

If you are a power user of Google Now or Siri, I’d love to get your thoughts. You can leave a comment below or chat with me on Twitter @chudson.

Comments (2) on "Why Google Now Beats Siri"

  1. Hey Charles, well-structured piece. What you describe here is a type of “anticipatory” and/or “passive” service that Google can offer direct from web to OS to app layer in an integrated/contextual manner. iOS could theoretically do this, but has no chance given its position wrt to apps.

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