‘Hey Siri’ Vs ‘Ok Google’ – War Of The Mobile Digital Assistants

By | December 4, 2014
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Apple and Google Android are constantly at loggerheads, as far as their mobile business is concerned. The Siri vs Google Now is one of the most interesting mini-battles in this ongoing war. We here analyze how the two virtual assistants perform on the basis of several parameters.

 

Ever since the handsfree ‘Hey Siri’ feature was showcased during this year’s Apple World Wide Developers’ Conference (WWDC), iOS fans have been dying to check it out. A couple of other factors had bolstered the anticipation for this handsfree functionality of Siri. For starters, Android loyalists have long been mocking at the rather common mistakes that Siri is prone to commit. More importantly, while Google Now (unveiled during Google I/O 2013, and debuted on the Android Jellybean platform) recently crossed the magical 1 billion active users mark, the usage rate of Siri on iOS 7 has remained on the lower side. iOS 8 and Android 5.0 Lollipop are both out, and once again, it’s time for the next round of battle between the two mobile artificial intelligent (AI) assistants. Read on, and find out which among ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Ok Google’ comes out on top:

 

  1. Response accuracy – Siri on iOS 8 has improved a lot in understanding queries and responding to them correctly, but it still has a long way to go, to catch up with Google Now. In a recently conducted survey by Stone Temple Consulting (comprising of 3086 common random questions), Android’s voice assistant came up with an impressive 88% correct responses. Apple’s Siri was a distant second, with only 53% correct answers. In fact, Siri’s performance was fairly close to that of Cortana – which got 40% of the answers right.
  2. Wake up/Activation time – Siri would edge this round. iOS analysts and mobile app developers have confirmed that voice commands can be given to Siri within seconds of bellowing the ‘Hey Siri’ wake-up call (there is hardly any time required for activation). Google Now can, however, take voice instructions only after the activation chime is generated. Not a big difference, but still a point that would delight sticklers for device speeds.
  3. Requirement of a power source – This one is a no-brainer. You can bellow ‘Hey Siri’ as loudly as you want, but your iOS 8-powered device won’t respond unless it is plugged in to a power source. Android users need not worry about this factor. They can chirp  ‘Ok Google’ to their handsets, and the latter would spring to action – irrespective of whether they are connected to a power source or not. There is a way to work around this problem for iDevice owners, but more on that later.
  4. Response Speed – There is not much to choose between Apple Siri and Google Now (particularly on the new iOS 8 and Android Lollipop platforms, respectively) regarding this. However, the ‘OK Google’ command, on average, does elicit slightly quicker responses than the ‘Hey Siri’ command (4.894 seconds vs 5.53 seconds). While the two are more or less at par for most types of voice queries, Siri takes significantly longer to respond to traffic-related queries (since Apple Maps has to be launched). Google Now responds to similar queries almost 3 seconds more quickly.
  5. Knowledge Base – First things first – what is a ‘knowledge base’ for mobile digital assistants? Simply put, these are the databases that allow ‘virtual helpers’ like Siri, Google Now and Cortana to come up with customized, informative, detailed results – instead of simply pulling up relevant results from the web. The ‘Ok Google’ command allows Google Now to scan through multiple knowledge bases to come up with the correct response, while Siri generally has only Wolfram Alpha to fall back on. This advantage of Now is principally derived from the built-in knowledge cards of Google.com. After all, Google is by far the biggest online search engine – and it’s not surprising that its mobile assistant would have greater access to data on the web. Maybe it’s time for Apple to start a search engine too?
  6. Improvement over time – Google Now is still ahead of the mobile artificial intelligence (AI) game. However, Siri has witnessed the biggest improvements over the last couple of iOS versions, as per general iPhone users as well as iOS app development experts. The breakthrough has, of course, been the launch of the ‘Hey Siri’ functionality – which has facilitated handsfree awakening and conversation. Google Now already had this feature, and it has bolstered its overall capacity to help users.
  7. Ability to provide ‘enhanced results’ – ‘Enhanced results’ refer to the capability of mobile digital assistants to include useful links, reviews and other add-on stuff in the results they display to users. Neither of our two rivals perform exceptionally on this count, but once again, it is Google Now with the advantage. The percentage of queries for which the Android assistant could come up with enhanced results (during the Stone Temple Consulting survey) was exactly double (58% vs 29%) of what Siri was capable of. Once again, the performance of Siri was rather uncomfortably close to that of Windows Cortana, which offered enhanced results to 20% queries.

Note: All three of them were found to bungle up simple grocery store searches!

8. Voice recognition – Another round that ‘Ok Google’ will comfortably take home. While Google Now can easily understand relatively difficult words in foreign language (say, the name of a rare Italian cuisine), Siri can – at times – struggle with names of even common things. This makes the accent of the users while giving voice commands a big factor. In addition, Google Now is more secure, since it is practically impossible for anyone other than the authorized owner(s) of the handset to wake Now up with ‘Ok Google’. ‘Hey Siri’ cannot quite give the same assurance against voice-imitations. Yet.

9. Number of languages supported – Check out discussions on Google Now and Siri at any active mobile app development forum – and the first thing that will strike you is the rapid strides that both Apple and Google have taken on the language support count. The total number of languages currently ‘understood’ by Google Now is an impressive 52. What’s more – it can take instructions in as many as 7 languages simultaneously. Siri on iOS 8 has become better than ever too, with support extended for 24 new dictation languages. Let’s just say that this round is a tie.

10. Ability to relate follow-up questions – Surprisingly, neither Google Now on Lollipop nor Siri on iOS 8 is much good regarding this. Search for ‘Chinese restaurants’ after the ‘Hey Siri’ command, and you will get names and reviews of the top eating joints in the locality. However, if you try to follow up that query with a question about the distance to these places – Siri would treat it as a totally new question. Google Now disappoints as well, since it would return plenty of results – whatever it can find with the word ‘restaurants’. In fact, for contextual, follow-up searches, Cortana performs better than either. Finally, some ‘yay’ for the Windows Phone assistant!

11. Overall user-convenience – ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Ok Google’ have separate fields where they excel. Mobile analysts and app developers unanimously agree that for everyday tasks like setting reminders, wake-up calls, sending texts and placing calls – Siri is the smarter AI agent. However, for voice queries that involve extensive information searching, Google Now comes up trumps. Comparing the two on the usefulness count would be akin to comparing apples and oranges. The precise requirements of a user determines whether (s)he finds Siri or Google Now more useful.

12. The fun factor – Google Now might be more efficient and ‘knowledgeable’, but it lacks the ready wit that has become a hallmark of Apple Siri. Try asking her ‘Who let the dogs out?’, and she will get back with an innocent ‘Wasn’t Me’, which will get you doubling over with laughter (there are many even funnier Siri repartees – listed right here). On the other hand, Google Now is more like the old-fashioned, obedient English butler – focusing on the tasks given to it, and not bothering much about being a ‘friend’ to the device-owner.

13. Dependency on browsing history – A lot of sheen goes off ‘Ok Google’, if a user is in the habit of regularly deleting the web browsing history on his/her phone. Android app developers state that, just as Google.com depends on previous searches to come up with more relevant, useful results over time, Google Now also can ‘keep learning’ only when earlier browsing data is available. Siri does not have any such dependency, and is more of an ‘independent’ digital assistant. In addition, Google Now often functions in collaboration with other mobile apps. Deletion of such applications can affect the performance of Now.

14. Frequency of crashes – Neither iOS 8 nor Android 5.0 Lollipop are bug-free yet (far from it, in fact). It’s hardly surprising that Siri and Google Now on these platforms are prone to sudden crashes from time to time. Overall tests have shown that instances of Google Now crashing is slightly more than that of Siri – but this difference is statistically not significant (and Android fanboys have the opposite opinion, anyway!). As the new platforms become more stable, both Siri and Google Now are expected to gain on the reliability front.

15. Memory usage – On new Samsung Galaxy S3 handsets, Google Now takes up 55 MB of RAM space. This figure is nothing to be concerned about for most people, but for those who are fast running out of memory space on their Android devices – keeping Now might require deleting few other mobile apps. Siri steals a march over its arch-rival over here – since it takes up next to no memory space. Apple’s digital assistant needs memory only for the notes and queries it has to handle.

 

With the arrival of ‘Hey Siri’ on iOS 8, iPhone-users no longer have to hold down the ‘Home’ button on their devices, to use Siri services. However, from the above discussion, it is pretty clear that ‘Ok Google’ still holds most of the aces. iOS app developers and analysts feel, correctly, that Siri has improved a lot – but a lot of work remains to be done before it becomes nearly as good as Google Now.

Bonus #1: 5 Cool Tips To Get The Most From Siri on iOS 8

  1. Activation without plugging to power source – Charging an iPhone while using Siri is not an absolute must. You can work around this by activating the ‘Hey Siri’ feature, and then extending the auto-lock period to anything more than 1 minute. After that, keep saying ‘Hey Siri’ every time the digital assistant times out, and it will wake up again.
  2. Live music identification – Integration of Shazam has brought forth this additional functionality. Now, you can simply let Siri ‘listen’ to a song, and then ask about the latter’s details. The assistant will display song information, links for paid downloads, and even a tab to access the Shazam app.
  3. Training Siri about the nicknames of your contacts – If you have a lot of ‘John’-s in your contact, the command ‘Call John’ would only add to the confusions of Siri. You can, of course, mention full names every time – but there is an easier way out. On iOS 8 devices, after ‘Hey Siri’ activation, you can simply say ‘John is my so-and-so’ - and Siri will look that person up. Make sure you have properly labeled your contacts first though.
  4. Live voice streaming – Professionals from iPhone app development agencies feel that this has been a big step up for Siri. No longer do users have to spell out their entire commands, for Siri to spring into action. Siri on iOS 8 has a built-in speech-to-text feature, which allows streaming voice recognition. That, in turn, lets Siri start working earlier than before.
  5. Option to create better ‘Reminders’ – You can make the ‘Reminders’ app on your iOS 8 device more customized with the help of Siri too. Through the Apple mobile digital assistant, you can add items to different pre-created fields in Reminders (say, Shopping, Meetings, etc.), without having to make any manual entry.

 

Bonus #2: 5 Cool Tips To Get The Most From Google Now on Android Lollipop

  1. Location and Commute Sharing – Google Plus might have a lot of ‘meh’ features, but it combines wonderfully with Google Now for this. You can update your precise location and commute details on G+, and share it with your friends/family members. Particularly useful if you wish to alert (or be alerted) about a serious traffic jam!
  2. Hotword Detection – What ‘Hey Siri’ is for iOS, ‘Google’ is for Android. Check the ‘Hotword Detection’ option at Google Now → Menu → Settings → Voice. This will enable you to ‘wake up’ now simply by saying ‘Google’. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
  3. Using TV Cards – For Android phone-owners who are movie/TV show-addicts as well, Google Now serves up further wonders. Provided that the phone and the smart TV are connected to the same wireless network, people can check out program details, show information, and even interesting tidbits about the actors, right on their mobile screen.
  4. Collaboration with Gmail – Everyone uses Gmail, and Google Now can make the mail service provider more informative than ever before. Android app developers have confirmed that Now has the capacity to scan mailboxes of users, and bring to them a host of additional information accordingly. Right from restaurant reservation details, to airport boarding passes – almost all relevant info can be obtained via the Gmail+Google Now combo.
  5. Personalized image search – Okay, this one is available only for users from the United States. If you are in the habit of clicking many photos – you no longer have to bother searching for specific pictures later on. Simply log on to G+, activate Google Now, and tell it to search for, say, ‘my photos at coffee shop’. The image(s) that you were looking for will be displayed in an instant.

 

Which one among ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Ok Google’ is your favorite command at present? Have your say!

 

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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