Thursday, December 5, 2013
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE/The Associated Press
An interview with two digital assistants
With Google's voice assistant now available on iPhones and iPads, The Associated Press used an iPad Mini to throw five test questions at Google Now and Siri on Monday afternoon in New York. Here's what the two digital assistants had to say for themselves:
Q.: What is the meaning of life?
Siri: "I can't answer that now, but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens." Siri has more than a dozen prepared responses to that question.
Google Now: The voice was silent. Instead, keywords triggered an ad for the Mormons atop the search results page. That was followed by links to a Wikipedia entry for "meaning of life" and other sites.
Q.: What'sFriday's weather like?
Siri: "It should be nice Friday ... up to 61 degrees and sunny." Siri also presented a graphic with day-by-day conditions over the next six days, using information from Yahoo.
Google Now: "Friday's forecast for New York, New York, is 64 degrees and clear." Google then presented a box with day-by-day conditions over the next 10 days, as well as current conditions.
Q.: What movies are showing this weekend?
Siri: "I found five movies playing nearby on Friday." Siri then presented a card with show times, parental ratings and favorability ratings from the Rotten Tomatoes website. Four of the movies were at art-house cinemas, as theater chains hadn't released weekend schedules yet. Links to buy or rent those movies on iTunes were offered when available.
Google Now: "Movies playing in New York on Friday." Google then offered a page with times, descriptions and other information for 13 movies, including six IMAX movies playing at science museums in New York and Jersey City, N.J. As with Siri, most of the rest were at art-house cinemas.
Q.: How did the Mets do?
Siri: "The Mets lost to the Phillies yesterday. The final score was 5 to 1." An inning-by-inning scoreboard was presented.
Google Now: "The Mets lost to the Phillies 5 to 1." An inning-by-inning scoreboard was offered up.
Q.: Please set my alarm for seven.
Siri: "I've set an alarm for 7 a.m." Siri assumed 7 the next morning rather than 7 that evening. Siri then showed a digital clock with a lever at "on," which you can switch to "off."
Google Now: The voice assistant was silent. Instead, search results appeared, including an article on "How to Use Siri's Clock -- For Dummies."
-- The Associated Press
The duel began Monday with the release of a free iPhone and iPad app that features Google Now, a technology that performs many of the same functions as Siri.
It's the first time that Google Now has been available on smartphones and tablet computers that aren't running on the latest version of Google's Android software. The technology, which debuted nine months ago, is being included in an upgrade to Google's search application for iOS, the Apple Inc. software that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It's up to users to decide whether to activate Google Now within the redesigned Google Search app, which is available through Apple's app store.
Siri tried to dismiss the competitive threat. When asked for an opinion about Google Now, Siri responded: "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather Google later."
Mike Allton, a St. Charles, Mo., resident who has owned an iPhone for four years, could hardly wait to check out Google Now, even if Siri might interpret it as a betrayal.
Siri "is looking a little green with envy," Allton, 36, said with a laugh after he installed Google's new app. "I love Apple products, but I like to see the competition because it probably will lead to even more improvements."
Other iPhone users -- even those who have grown fond of Siri -- welcomed Google Now's arrival to iOS in mostly enthusiastic and sometimes amusing remarks posted on Twitter and Google Plus. One person joked that Google Now is so helpful that the technology prompted him to wash his hands after using the bathroom. The biggest gripe was about the possibility of Google Now's location-tracking features draining a device's battery more quickly.
Google Now's invasion of Siri's turf marks Google Inc.'s latest attempt to lure iPhone and iPad users away from a service that Apple built into its own devices.
Google quickly won over millions of iPhone users in December when it released a mapping application to replace the navigation system that Apple dumped when it redesigned iOS last fall.
Apple has been losing to Google on other fronts in a rapidly growing mobile computing market, an arena that was revolutionized with the iPhone's release in 2007. Smartphones and tablet computers running Google's free Android software have been steadily expanding their market share in recent years, partly because they tend to be less expensive than the iPhone and iPad. In 2012, Android devices held about 69 percent of the smartphone market while iOS had about 19 percent, according to the research firm IDC.
Android's success has been particularly galling for Apple because its late CEO, Steve Jobs, believed Google stole many of its ideas for the software from the iPhone. That led to a series of court battles over allegations of patent infringement, including a high-profile trial last year that culminated in Apple winning hundreds of millions in damages from Samsung Electronics, the top seller of Android phones.
The rise of Android also is squeezing Apple's profit margins and has contributed to a nearly 40 percent drop in the company's stock price since it peaked at $705.07 last September around the time that the iPhone 5 came out.
Siri is billed by Apple as an "intelligent feature." Since the technology's release in October 2011, Apple has made it a centerpiece of some marketing campaigns that depict Siri and its automated female voice as a pithy companion.
Google believes its Siri counterpart is smarter because Google Now is designed to learn about a user's preferences and then provide helpful information before it's even asked to do so. The technology draws upon information that Google gleans from search requests other interactions with the company's other services.