Google’s Voice Search App Is Smarter Than Siri, But Still Less Capable

Google’s newly improved iOS search tool reminds us that voice recognition needs to integrate deeply into the mobile experience, or not at all.

Siri and I didn’t work out. She’d make us reservations for nice dinners, and she was a great listener. But any time we ventured into a topic she wasn’t intimately familiar with–and she pretty much only knew about sports and weather–she’d ask if I wanted her to search the web. The wait staff always gave me funny looks.


A first date with Google’s latest iOS search app was more promising, thanks to an enhanced voice search feature (prompted right from the search screen) that eliminated all those awkward silences that Siri and I once knew. But would I bring the app home to mom? Let’s just say I’m keeping my options open.

Side by Side, Google Is Usually Smarter and Faster …
… and Siri teeters between politeness and standoffishness.

When I ask Google what $10 in Euros is, a voice tells me “10 U.S. dollars equals 7.71 Euros.” When I ask Siri the same question, she silently spits out an old receipt, complete with all sorts of extraneous information beyond the conversion rate in hopes of answering the question.

When I ask Google, “What movies are playing near me tonight?” my assistant simply responds, “Movies playing in Chicago” but lists movie times for the most popular movie at the closest theaters. When I ask Siri the same question, she kindly says “I’ve found quite a number of movies playing nearby tonight,” but then just lists films on Rotten Tomatoes.

Notably, when I asked specifically about Paranormal Activity 4, Siri heard “Paranormal Activity For” and began playing “Tonight” by TV on the Radio. Google figured out the number and film by context, but didn’t offer me any showtimes.

And in maybe the ultimate test, Siri and Google both have decent comebacks to my question, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”


Yet Google’s Advantage Isn’t Just Intelligence …
… because its best improvement over Siri may be the simplest design trick: When Google can’t answer your question via its Knowledge Graph, it automatically Google searches the web anyway (rather than asking if you’d like to search the web first, as Siri would). So the asking questions and getting answers is far more seamless on Google’s platform. And even when Google fails to understand your question, its blind search may still be able to answer it.

Google’s Only Weakness …
… is that it can’t leverage the iOS platform like Siri to schedule reminders, send texts, or make calls. These shortcomings could be overlooked, except that Google doesn’t even leverage its own powerful cloud services like Google Calendar, Google Talk, or Gmail in this regard, either. (Their iOS search app is nowhere near the capability of Android’s Google Now.) In many ways, Google seems overall more intelligent and more streamlined, but it’s not designed with anywhere near the integration necessary to make it a go-to portal for interacting with my phone and the Internet at large. And in this regard, Google, for however much better it understands me than Siri, won’t make its way into my daily habits. Because until 90% of what I want to learn and do on my smartphone can be voice prompted, it will always feel like I’m just talking to myself.

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[Hat tip: Techland]

[Lead Image: Microphone via Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.