Apple's Siri has a rival: Google voice search

The Google Search app does some things better than Siri.

Google voice search (left) outperforms Apple's Siri (right) in some areas.
John Kehe

Apple promises a lot from Siri. The company advertises this "intelligent assistant" as a major selling point for new iPhones and iPads. Ask a question out loud, and Siri digs up an answer; dictate an appointment, and Apple's software will jot down the date for you. At least, that's the idea.

"It never un­derstands my voice," says Amanda Soloway, an iPhone owner and student in the University of Washington's Master of Business Administration program in Seattle. "I think there was one time that I got it to work. I got it to put something on my calendar. But by the time Siri figured out what I was saying, I could have just done it myself."

Ms. Soloway echoes the complaints of many unhappy Siri users. In specific cases, Apple's ­robot-voiced helper can be quite a crowd pleaser. (Ask it to "tell me a joke" or "what's '2001: A Space Odyssey' about?") But when it comes to legitimate utility, Siri is often lacking.

Things look even worse for Siri now that Google is trying to beat Apple at its own game. The iPhone's Google Search application recently got a big update that unlocks voice search. The free app works much like Siri. Press the microphone icon, say your query aloud, and Google attempts to sniff out an answer.

Both Google Search and Siri do well with questions like "What's five pounds in US dollars?" or "Who won the Cowboys game?" Apple and Google programmed their software specifically to handle common inquiries such as these.

However, if Siri doesn't know the answer to your question or can't figure out what you're saying, then Apple passes the buck. For example, ask Siri "Who painted the Mona Lisa?" and it will reply, "Would you like me to search the Web for 'Who painted the Mona Lisa'?" If you agree, then Siri hands you over to Google.

Why not just start with Google? In our tests, Google voice search delivered answers faster than Siri could, it had an easier time figuring out what we meant, and the Google Search app didn't require an awkward handoff for tough questions.

That said, Siri is built into Apple's products, so it can access parts of the device that Google simply can't. The Google Search app can't text-message friends. It can't access your calendar. It can't function in a hands-free mode. Siri can.

However, if you want quick answers to life's little mysteries, try out Google Search. It's available in the iTunes store.

For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.

[Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the December 24 issue of the Monitor weekly magazine.]

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Apple's Siri has a rival: Google voice search
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today