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Google Assistant and Viv underscore how boring Siri has become

Published May 19th, 2016 7:47PM EDT
Google Assistant Vs Siri

Though Siri is now more user-friendly and capable than ever, its functionality seems frustratingly limited when compared to competing intelligent assistants from the likes of Google and Amazon. Siri’s relative shortcomings were on full display yesterday when Google showed off Google Assistant at the company’s annual I/O developers conference yesterday.

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The problem here is twofold: firstly, Apple has done a mediocre job of actually informing consumers about the full range Siri’s capabilities. Often times, Apple will make server-side updates to Siri and won’t tell anyone, leaving it up to Apple-centric blogs and enthused users to keep the masses informed. Two, and more problematic, is the fact that Siri appears to be progressing much more slowly than the competition.

To this point, it’s worth noting that most if not all of the original members of Apple’s Siri team have since left the company for other ventures, with many of them winding up at Viv Labs. Earlier this month, Siri co-creator Dag Kittlaus showed off Viv, a futuristic AI system that uses natural-language processing and third-party integrations to make Siri seem ancient.

Where Siri can only handle relatively simple queries, Viv was designed to understand and process multi-layered queries in real-time. For example, Viv can tell you if it was raining in Boston 5 days ago. Siri, meanwhile, can’t even tell you if it was raining yesterday. Viv can also handle the following types of complex queries:

  • Will it be warmer than 70 degrees near the Golden gate bridge after 5 PM the day after tomorrow?
  • Find me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in

Google Assistant also appears vastly superior and more capable than Siri.

Judging by the demos we saw yesterday, Google Assistant can handle contextual queries with ease. For instance, a user can ask to see a list of movies playing nearby. Following that, if a user adds, “I want to bring my kids this time”, the search results will be refined as to only show kid-friendly flicks.

In an even more impressive example, a user standing near the Statue of Liberty or The Bean in Chicago can simply ask “Who designed this?” and Google Assistant will be able to take the location of the user into account and return an appropriate answer. Another example of Google Assistant’s capabilities was showcased with a user asking a basic question about the Taj Mahal. When the users follows up with a “Take me there” command, Street View quickly opens up.

A quick video demo of Google Assistant can be seen below.

Has Siri ever seemed even remotely as intriguing as Google Assistant? And while people love Amazon Echo, Siri is often viewed as more of a novelty at best or a useless frustration at worst.

Part of the issue is that Apple, by its very nature, places a premium on privacy over personal data. The rub is that the more an intelligent assistant knows about us, the more useful it is. In other words, it’s a trade-off that Google has no problem making but one that Apple is inherently reluctant to embrace.

To this point, MacWorld notes:

Unlike Google, Facebook, and other tech companies that make money from advertising, Apple doesn’t collect your personal data because it doesn’t need to. It makes money by selling you hardware and getting you to sign up for monthly subscription services like iCloud storage and Apple Music, among other revenue generators. That means most everything about you is stored on the device, which makes it harder for Apple to access the information it would need for Siri to serve up tailored information. Harder, but not impossible. My credit card information is stored in Apple Pay and I have location services turned on, so why can’t Siri order an Uber for me or buy movie tickets from my nearest theater?

The following excerpt from a Reuters article on Siri and Apple’s privacy czars is also apt:

Unlike Google, Amazon and Facebook, Apple is loathe to use customer data to deliver targeted advertising or personalized recommendations. Indeed, any collection of Apple customer data requires sign-off from a committee of three “privacy czars” and a top executive, according to four former employees who worked on a variety of products that went through privacy vetting.

Approval is anything but automatic: products including the Siri voice-command feature and the recently scaled-back iAd advertising network were restricted over privacy concerns, these people said.

A Siri API would be welcome in this regard so it will be interesting to see if Apple has some interesting Siri announcements at WWDC this year.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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