Q. I ask the Google app on my phone only about the daily weather forecast, but how does it compare to the Siri program for the verbal instructions it understands?
A. Personal assistant apps that respond to spoken-word commands — like Google Now with voice search, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana — handle many of the same requests, especially those related to apps or services on your mobile device. By asking aloud, you can have the assistant send mail or messages to people in your contacts list, make phone calls, log appointments, get directions on a map, track specific flights and look up information online.
Years ago, before Google created its Google Now service, the company began developing its voice-enabled search software as a way to make finding information on the web easier. The speech-recognition technology is a part of the Google app for Android and iOS, and the Chrome desktop browser also supports Voice Search. A voice-activated search begins with the words, “O.K., Google,” and the company’s site has a set of suggestions for what you can ask on the Android, iOS or Chrome versions.
When you have the Google Now feature turned on within the Android or iOS app, the service brings you the information it thinks you might need instead of your having to ask for it. This can include estimated times for your daily commute, reminders about new episodes of your favorite television shows or places to visit near your scheduled vacation destination.
Google Now works most fully on phones or tablets running Android, particularly when it hooks up with many of the standard system apps. The virtual assistant also delivers updates and notifications from other programs on your device, and recently integrated 70 new apps into its workings. If you want suggestions for how to talk to Google Now, sites like Greenbot and Trendblog have compiled lengthy lists of the voice commands found to work with the service. (In addition to the actions meant to help your productivity, Google has included responses to more frivolous requests, like “Roll dice,” “Flip a coin” and “What is the loneliest number?”)
Spoken-word commands are particularly helpful on mobile devices, whose keyboards are small. Apple’s Siri app for iOS arrived in 2011 with the iPhone 4S and has been improving its usefulness ever since. To see a list of queries and commands you can use with Siri in iOS 8, tap the small question-mark icon at the bottom-left corner of Siri’s main screen. And for those with Windows Phones who are curious about conversation with Cortana, Microsoft’s site has a list of sample questions and commands to use with the program, which is also coming to Windows 10.Continue reading the main story
Google Assistant made things the easiest. It knew exactly what I was talking about, and immediately opened up a route in Google Maps, as if I had already searched it in there. It put me on my way within seconds.
Siri got the idea, but in a roundabout manner. It showed a card with six different results, and weirdly said, "One option is Port Authority Bus Terminal on New York in New York. Do you want that one?" After confirming, though, it did the same thing as Google, just with Apple Maps — which is better, but still not the best.
Being stuck in a Bluetooth speaker, there wasn't much Alexa could do. It did use Yelp data to identify the right place, tell me its location, and tell me its hours, though it didn't give any mapping info in its companion app.
Cortana pulled up a list of three potential places, then asked which one I wanted. When I said "the first one," which was correct, it did a Bing video search for the phrase "the first one." Not great! When I clicked on the right result, though, it opened up a route in Windows Maps, which is fine, but not on Google's level.
Winner: Google Assistant