On Tuesday, Google added voice search to its iOS app, inviting comparisons with Apple’s native voice assistant, Siri. Many have noted that Google’s voice-search function delivers Web-based results faster and more definitively. But the most embarrassing contrast for Apple so far must be the one that Web developer Dan Nguyen pointed out on his blog yesterday.
With the East Coast digging out from the deadly superstorm, Nguyen asked both Google’s mobile app and Siri the same question: “How much damage did Hurricane Sandy do?” Google misheard him, transcribing the question as “How much damage did Hurricane Sandy too?” But it still managed to instantly deliver relevant results, beginning with Google’s crisis map and official state-by-state emergency info.
Siri, bless her heart, got a little confused. Apple’s voice assistant heard him ask the nonsensical question, “How much damage did hurricane you do,” and racked its algorithmic brain for a few seconds before responding, “OK, the Hurricanes appear to be in first place in the Southeast right now.” To back up its claim, it pulled up the standings for the Southeast Division of the National Hockey League, which did indeed show the Carolina Hurricanes in first—albeit with a 0-0 record, since the league is out of commission indefinitely due to a labor dispute (which Siri did not see fit to mention).
Forbes’ Anthony Wing Kosner confirmed the results on his iPad 3, although in his case Google transcribed the question correctly.
I gave it a go several times on my own iPhone 5 and actually found Siri to be better than Google voice search at understanding my question. Google first thought I said “Hurricane San Diego,” then thought I said “tip” instead of “do.” Yet it brought up the relevant emergency info each time. Siri heard me properly on the first try, and replied exuberantly, “Hey, the Hurricanes are in first place in the Southeast!” (Again, the enthusiasm is a little misplaced, since the team has yet to play a game.)
This is by no means fatal for Siri. Apple’s voice assistant was never meant to be a straightforward Web-search tool. And Google’s voice search obviously has nothing on Siri when it comes to scheduling appointments, finding nearby restaurants, carrying on a conversation, or cracking philosophy jokes.
Still, Google’s instant superiority in returning Web-based results is not limited to Hurricane Sandy. And it highlights the clear comparative advantage that Mountain View holds over Cupertino when it comes to software and data (think Apple Maps). That’s a problem that booting Scott Forstall probably isn’t going to solve.
Update: It seems Siri wasn’t exactly the most helpful of assistants in the hours leading up to the hurricane, either.