Google’s new Google Search app for iOS is now out, bringing with it a Siri-like quality of speaking to get answers and having them read back. The app is cool, but it can’t do all the “assistant” things that Siri can. Then again, for many searches, the Google Search app can be much faster than Siri. That’s something which might make Google, rather than Siri, the first choice for iPhone, iPad and other iOS searchers.
The Zooey Deschanel Test
The Google Search app and Siri are not the same in capabilities. Google is designed to help with searching; Siri can help with searching as well as do actions on an iOS device, like an iPhone (and I’ll be saying iPhone going forward, but that will include searching on an iPad or iPod Touch)
Perhaps there’s no better way to demonstrate the difference than to do what I call the “Zooey Deschanel.”
Many have seen Apple’s ad where actor and singer Zooey Deschanel is stranded inside on a rainy day, asking Siri to help her know if it’s raining outside (because the actual rain she can see isn’t proof enough), to order tomato soup, to reminder herself to clean-up the house and to play music. If you’ve not seen it, take a look:
I actually love the ad (along with all things Zooey), despite how easy it is to mock. It also serves to illustrate what the Google Search app can do — find and read you answers — and what it can’t, do actions on your iPhone or iOS device.
To show this, I made a side-by-side video of Google Search and Siri both doing the same things that Zooey was asking Siri to do in her commercial, on my own iPhone 5:
The video quality isn’t porr, sorry. I’ll do better next time. But you’ll get the point, especially in terms of what works and how quickly or not it happens.
Is That Rain? About The Same
The video covers four requests. The first is the question, “Is that rain?” The Google Search app interprets this as a request to search the web and brings back matching web pages. Disappointing.
Phrased another way, “Is it raining,” and the Google Search app acts more Siri-like. A “card” appears showing my local weather, and the app (using a voice different than Siri’s) tells me that no, it’s not raining, along with the temperature and forecast.
By the way, it’s not new that you can speak to the Google Search app in this way. What’s different (among several changes) is having the app talk back to you with answers.
Siri reacts a little slower than the Google Search app, but it manages to give a weather forecast view for both ways the questions is phrased, along with saying, “I don’t believe it’s raining.”
Siri Does Soup; Google Doesn’t
The next is asking, “Let’s get tomato soup delivered.” Google interprets this as a request to do a web search, rather than a local search, so isn’t impressive. Trying again with “Let’s get soup delivered” doesn’t help.
With Siri, it understands that I want local restaurants with the first request, probably keying off the word “delivered” to know this. But, it finds no restaurants with tomato soup. For the second request, just for “soup,” it does come up with a nice list.
Google: For Search, Not Actions
Next, it’s a request for “Remind me to clean up, tomorrow” Google interprets this as a request to search the web, rather than to make a note on my calendar. Siri, in contrast, offers to schedule a reminder for me.
Google’s “failure” here really isn’t one, because this is the key difference between the Google Search app and Siri. The Google app is for searching, whereas Siri is a native “assistant” that’s part of the iPhone and able to do more than search.
Google Search may sound act and sound like Siri in some ways, but it’s not designed to be an assistant (on Android phones, Google Voice Actions can do some of the “assistant” thing that Siri does on the iPhone, such as set alarms).
The final “Play Shake, Rattle & Roll” test demonstrates this, as well. Google interprets that as a request to search the web, because, in the end, that’s what you’re using the search app to do — to search.
Siri, being an assistant, interprets “play” to mean you want to play something on the phone, then looks to see if there’s matching content. Finding that I have a copy of the song, it begins to play that.
Siri Takes The Google Search App Test
Having pitted the Google Search app against actions from an Apple commercial, some of them is was never intended to do, I thought it would be interesting to pit Siri against some of the actions in a Google promotional video for its new app. First, the video:
Here’s my own video taking the questions and trying them against both the Google Search app and Siri on my own iPhone 5:
For Just Searching, Google Is Fast
The video starts with a request for “how many people live in Cape Cod.” Google comes back almost instantly with the answer, reading it back.
In contrast, Siri takes longer. The pause is because first, Siri is checking around to see what other sources might have an answer that it can consult with, such as Wolfram Alpha or Yelp. When it decides none of these will work, then it asks if I want it to search the web. After another delay for me to tell it yes, Siri sends the request to its web search partner — Google
A similar thing happens later, when I try asking “Show me pictures of whales.” Google is blazing fast with an answer that gets read back to me. Siri is slower because it stops to see if there’s a search partner with an answer, then when there’s not, it offers to search the web — which brought me back to Google.
In short, if you’re searching a lot, and you’re pretty sure your request will require a broad web search, using Google will probably save you time than putting your request in with Siri.
Weather, Movies: About The Same
Another test is for “what’s the weather like in Yarmouth.” In this case, as with the Zooey test, both Google and Siri about about equal.
I also tried a search for “movies in Newport Beach,” my city rather than “Yarmouth” as in Google’s video (when I tried Yarmouth, Siri brought up Nantucket, so I wanted a better direct comparison). Once again, both were about the same in getting me movie-specific information.
By the way, in some cases, asking Google to play you a trailer of an upcoming movie will cause that trailer to play right in its search results. Pretty cool, and Siri doesn’t do it. But Siri will play trailers for movies that are offered in iTunes, while Google doesn’t seem able to do trailers for movies out of theaters, like Prometheus.
Navigation To Siri, Eventually
Siri gets the edge on the Google Search app when it comes to a request for “I need directions to Yarmouth, Cape Cod.”
Google gets the directions quickly and easily (quite a long drive for me from California). Siri keeps thinking that the “Yarmouth” I want is in South Africa and refuses to give directions.
Eventually, by asking for directions to just “Yarmouth,” Siri brings them up. Then it does what Google can’t do, launching turn-by-turn GPS navigation. That’s Siri’s advantage, in being native to the iPhone and able tap into other features (on an Android phone, this type of request to Google would bring up GPS navigation).
Definitions To Google; Local To Siri?
In a search for “what is a humpback whale,” Google proved to be blazing fast again with a definition that it read to me. Siri was as fast, but the experience wasn’t as good with the final answer, a list of facts from partner Wolfram Alpha, none of them read to me.
In contrast, one of the biggest surprises to me was Google’s failure for the search “I need a mechanic.” In the video, Google speaks back that there are several in the area. For me, I got a web page with no local listings at all. In contrast, Siri quickly brought up a list of local listings.
When I tried asking Google simply for “mechanic,” then I got what the video showed, the read-back and local listings. Normally, that’s also how I would do a voice search with Google, staying specific and not trying to give it a chatty natural-language request in the way Siri encourages.
Will iOS Searchers Drop Siri For Google?
We’ll be doing much more testing on our Search Engine Land sister-site about how the Google Search app goes up against Siri, so by no means should a single query be taken as proof that Siri does local search better than the Google Search app. But for the right types of queries, Siri might be the better choice.
That’s also the danger Apple faces with the Google Search App. The advantage to Siri is the concept that you can tell it anything and that supposedly it will find the right answer. But if Siri sends people back to Google — as it inevitably does for a wide-variety of searches — Siri is suddenly transformed from a time-saver to a time-waster, for anyone who’s also tried the Google Search app.
Instead, for these people, they may learn that it makes more sense to speak your searches to Google first and only use Siri for more specific requests, especially assistant-oriented ones. If that happens, then Google will have managed to cut itself back into a search process that Siri cut it out of partially, when it was introduced last year. That also might be why it took so long for Apple to apparently decide to approve the app. It may have feared Siri losing some of its usage.
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