Apple announced its new iPhones in San Francisco on September 9 and outlined, among many other things, new improvements to its digital assistant, Siri. But how will it hold up against the Google Now on Tap features that are coming with Android Marshmallow? Read our Google Now vs Siri comparison to see which digital assistant will have the best features when the next big OS updates land.
Google Now vs Siri: What's new?
When we first saw Google Now on Tap, we thought it was the best feature introduced with Android M. Google Now on Tap draws on Google Now's understanding of more than 100 million different contexts, as well as the unmatched Google Knowledge Graph, and can be used on any app or website on your phone.
Google Now on Tap
Google Now on Tap will work not as a separate app, but as a small slide-up overlay over whatever screen you're on, using the information from that screen to anticipate what you might want to ask it.
For example, if you're reading an email that mentions a restaurant, Google Now can bring up options to call the restaurant straight away or make a booking.
Better still, if you're listening to a song on your music player, you can ask questions like "what's his last album?" or "what's her real name?" and Google Now will know who you're talking about based on what is happening on screen. It has revolutionary potential.
Siri is also focusing on context-sensitive features, with Apple using buzzwords like 'proactive assistant' and 'intelligence' to describe the updates. If you receive a text message, you can just ask Siri to remind you about it later, for example, or you can save event invites from your emails directly into your calendar.
Moreover, Siri will recognize your location, so when you get into the car it might switch your music player to an audiobook of your choosing, or put on a high-energy playlist when you're at the gym. Siri's improvements are bolstered by a new API for its search bar, which can now integrate with apps and bring up results from within apps directly on the iOS home screen.
In the past, Siri could only be called upon when holding down the home button, when raising the phone to your mouth, or when your iPhone was plugged in. In iOS 9, Siri will be 'always listening' meaning that you can say "Hey Siri" at any time to activate it.
It is possible to configure Google Now to act in the same way.
Siri is primed for use with the new version of Apple TV, arriving in October, and you will now be able to search for TV shows and movies based on genre, release date, or even the cast. The example shown in Apple's latest event was a search for James Bond movies, but only those featuring Sean Connery, using voice commands.
When watching a TV show or movie you will also be able to ask: "what did she say?" and Siri will rewind the video 15 seconds before playing that section back with subtitles on. It is also possible to pinpoint a particular episode of a show by saying something like: "Show me that Modern Family episode with Edward Norton." Clever.
Google Now vs Siri: Speed and accuracy
At WWDC 2015, it was revealed that Siri has a word error rate of a mere five percent, which is "an industry-leading number,'' according to Apple Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi. Of course, we should take such marketing spiel with a pinch of salt and look more closely at real-world tests on the voice assistant tools.
A test by Russian Mac site Macdigger.ru found that Siri came out on top when it came to different languages. When asked 18 questions, Siri was more accurate than Google Now in English, French, German and Mandarin.
However, other tests have found that Google Now's answers have been more accurate than Siri's. In July 2014, Piper Jaffray Analyst Gene Munster said that Google Now had overtaken Siri for accuracy, getting 86 percent of questions right, while Siri correctly answered 84 percent.
Siri, however, has been praised for retrieving results faster than Google Now, even if they are marginally less accurate. So we have a voice recognition/accuracy/speed triangle with which to make our assessments.
Both Android Marshmallow and iOS 9 will mark a major new milestone for both personal assistants, so expect the results to change significantly when the new OS updates are released.
Google Now vs Siri: Interface
Both Google Now and Siri are easily accessible no matter what screen you're on. In both cases, you just hold the home button on your devices to get a full-screen overlay showing the respective personal assistant. Once you're on that screen, you simply ask your question and (hopefully) get a quick response.
But in iOS 9 and Android Marshmallow, Siri and Google Now will be more integrated into their respective operating systems, in a way that'll make them more ubiquitous yet less visible. With Siri, for example, you'll have suggestions appearing on your homescreens for contacts you might want to call, based on the fact that that person arranged a meeting with you that day by text or email.
Thanks to Google Now on Tap, Google Now will feel less like a separate app, and more like an integrated assistant that's there to help you with whatever you need at that moment. It will mainly work as a small overlay at the bottom of your display and will understand what you want to ask it based on what's on screen. It'll be less intrusive, and more useful.
With major updates inbound for both Google Now and Siri, the conclusion for our Google Now vs Siri comparison remains a bit... inconclusive. Both personal assistant tools are still very much works in progress, but both already yield impressive results. Google Now seems to have the edge in accuracy, but Siri beats it on speed.
It's clear that neither Apple not Google want Siri and Google Now to feel like cool extra features, but integral and crucial parts of their respective operating systems. Android Marshmallow and iOS 9 will be big steps forward for both personal assistant tools, and we're excited to go back and compare them when their next big updates land.
But, for the sake of a satisfying conclusion, we're predicting that Google Now on Tap will have the edge over Siri. Where Siri is taking steps to being more like Google Now, Google Now is introducing a feature that could be a huge step towards obtaining information as and when we want it. Who knows, that feature might debut at WWDC 2016...
Do you prefer Google Now or Siri? What particular feature gives it the edge? Let us know in the comments.