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Siri vs. Google Search

Rob Griffiths | Feb. 27, 2013
If you've seen any Apple advertising at all, you may come to the conclusion that Siri is indeed the slickest feature available on any phone ever made. However, Siri isn't the only speech-recognizing search-assistant available on the iPhone, and that it may not even be the best one.

Siri, are you the most amazing feature on the iPhone? If you've seen any Apple advertising at all, you may come to the conclusion that Siri is indeed the slickest feature available on any phone ever made. You may be surprised to learn, though, that Siri isn't the only speech-recognizing search-assistant available on the iPhone, and that it may not even be the best one.

Is Google better?

Recently, Google added voice-input capabilities to its free Google Search app for iOS devices. If you haven't tried that out yet, I highly recommend you do: I find the app's voice input so useful that I've given Google Search a spot in my Dock and have essentially retired Siri from everyday use. (Another advantage: Google's voice search also works on older iOS devices that don't support Siri, such as the iPhone 4; it runs on any device that supports iOS 4.3 or newer.)

What's so good about Google's voice search, especially on a device that comes with Siri already? The best way to answer that question is with a test. I posed the same four questions to Siri and the Google Search app.

  • How do you spell exuberant?
  • Who won the Trailblazers basketball game last night?
  • How do you make vanilla ice cream?
  • How high is Mount Kilimanjaro?

So how'd it work out? See for yourself:

For each question, I started a timer when I started speaking, and stopped it as soon as there were usable results on the screen. While this method ignores the time it takes to launch Google compared to launching Siri, I think it fairly compares the actual speed of each language-parsing engine.

The video demonstrates some key differences between Google and Siri. For instance, instead of sending a recording of my voice to a server, converting the speech to text, and then sending the text and search results back to my device (as Siri does), Google seems to be doing the voice-to-text conversion directly in the app: Words appear on the screen nearly as quickly as they're spoken. It's nice seeing what I'm saying in near real time, as it's easy to see if the words are being recognized correctly. Google also catches and capitalizes words such as Trailblazers and Kilimanjaro as they're spoken. It's a little thing, but it's a nice touch that makes the assistant seem that much more personal.

Google also speaks out many of its results--the spelling of exuberant and the height of Mount Kilimanjaro, for example. Siri often just displays text on the screen; even if she does speak, what she says isn't always very helpful. ("OK, Rob, here you go.") Siri's text displays can be quite nice (the Trailblazers box score, for instance), but I prefer hearing the results to just looking at them.

 

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