Google brought its Google Assistant to iOS this week,
finally giving iPhone fans a taste of the best virtual
assistant on the planet. But those on Android are in for so
much more, with major improvements on the way, including
impressive Google Lens integration.
The changes make it harder than ever
for Siri to catch up. Despite the improvements Apple made with
iOS 10, it still feels like Siri is well behind its rivals. Is
that gap now too big, or can Apple catch up? Will Siri ever be
as good as the Google Assistant?
Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we wage war
over virtual assistants.
improvements Google previewed for the Google Assistant this
week are incredibly exciting for anyone who uses a virtual
assistant. Thanks to features like Google Lens, which can
identify objects in the real world better than any other
assistant, it is beginning to edge out rivals like Amazon
Alexa. Siri is so far behind, I don’t see it catching up
Siri has certainly become more
flexible with iOS 10, thanks to APIs that allow developers to
tap into it. But the Google Assistant continues to do more.
That’s largely thanks to the way in which Google uses our data,
and because Apple refuses to do the same, Siri will always be
behind. Some might see that as a good thing, but it’s not when
it comes to virtual assistants.
you think Siri can catch up and be as good as the Google
Assistant without all that data? How else could Apple provide
really a few issues to discuss here. The first is whether
Google Assistant can overtake Siri on iOS, since I don’t think
virtual assistants are compelling enough yet that they’re going
to persuade iOS users to jump to Android or vice versa. The
answer is that, no, I don’t think Google Assistant is going to
displace Siri. The fact that you have to download it as an app
rather than it coming as standard on the phone, you can’t
activate it with your voice or the Home button, it can’t tap
into iOS apps in the way that Siri can makes it something that
less iOS users are going to want to take advantage of.
You raise a
good point about Siri’s quality, though. As I’ve written before
in my “Today in Apple history” posts, Apple really popularized
AI assistants when it introduced Siri with the iPhone 4s.
However, jump forward to the present day and it’s certainly
lagging behind other companies. I’m confident that Apple can
catch up, though — so long as it makes a concerted effort to do
so. Apple’s been acquiring AI companies and hiring AI
researchers at a rate that it has never done before. It’s also
been pushing its deep learning technology and starting to
publish machine learning papers in a way that makes it clear
that it is taking this field seriously for arguably the first
time. It’s also been granted a number of patents which — while
no guarantee of Apple’s intentions — show that it is at least
considering integrating Siri more thoroughly into services like
its Messages app etc.
The biggest news, of course, is that Apple is reportedly
launching an Amazon Echo-style at WWDC. That could be big for
Apple, and could really work in its favor as not just an AI
assistant, but a way of integrating with Apple services like
HomeKit and Apple Music. That’s the area Apple can really make
a success of with Siri: turning it into the “digital hub” for
bringing all its services together.
Killian: Apple’s restrictions mean no virtual
assistant will ever be as good as Siri on iOS. They will never
be able to fulfill their full potential because they don’t have
access to large parts of the operating system. But that doesn’t
automatically make Siri the best virtual assistant out there,
and although users may not switch solely for Google Assistant
right now, having iPhone owners constantly looking over the
fence at what they don’t have isn’t good for Apple.
I don’t doubt that Apple is taking AI more seriously. And as a
regular iOS user, I’m hoping Siri will become greater over
time. But it has fallen behind in a big way, and I think it
will be incredibly difficult for Apple to close the gap before
it gets even wider. Siri is lacking so many features that you
can find elsewhere that it will likely take years just for
Apple to offer the same. By that time, who knows what the
Google Assistant will be capable of.
A standalone Siri device isn’t going to change anything. It
will make Siri more accessible in your home, but it won’t make
it more capable. I don’t see a Siri speaker doing anything your
iPhone can’t, other than supporting and recognizing multiple
A lot of this is going to depend on where Apple places its
focus. My hope is that selling Siri hardware will mean a
renewed interest in other ignored parts of Apple’s business.
For example, HomeKit is an area with a tremendous amount of
potential, but it seems to have been forgotten about. If
Apple’s able to make a standalone Siri compelling, it’s got the
chance to revolutionize the smart home and establish itself as
a major player in that field. That’s not something that is
going to make up a big part of Apple’s business in the
immediate future, but the fact that the Other Products category
— which also includes AirPods and Apple Watch — grew over the
past quarter, while iPhone sales, Mac sales and Mac sales fell,
shows that it makes sense to embrace areas outside of Apple’s
focus on just the iPhone.
Are you much of
an AI assistant user? Do you think it’s something that’s got
the potential to become extremely important, or is it just a
Killian: HomeKit does have great potential, but
very few of us have smart homes. I don’t know a single person
who has a smart home. What’s more, smart devices aren’t cheap,
so it’s not as if we’re all going to go out and buy smart
appliances just to use HomeKit in the same way we bought iPods
to enjoy iTunes. Why would Apple invest its resources into
becoming a major player in a market that’s still so
I find myself using the Google Assistant on the Galaxy S8 more
than I used Siri on my iPhone 7. I don’t necessarily use it for
things Siri can’t do, but I just find it to be more reliable,
and a more enjoyable experience. It’s also more useful because
it knows more about me; Apple’s decision not to look into our
data means it can’t find useful information in our emails and
I certainly think AI is going to become an important part of
our lives, though. Virtual assistants are gimmicks for most of
us — it’s not like we couldn’t live without them — but I think
we’ll become increasingly reliant on them as they get more
intelligent and more capable.
I think you’re missing a big thing about smart homes. They have
the potential to be a lot more than just nerdy gimmicks, just
as personal computers had the potential to be more than
hobbyist toys in the early 1980s. The idea of using predictive
tech to, for instance, gather possible health insights, or make
recommendations for even something as superficial as what TV
you watch based on knowledge about how sleep patterns has the
possibility of being enormous. Add in smart security systems
and the like and you have a massive market opportunity that a
tool like Siri could be used to interface with. I do agree Siri
needs to be better, though. Right now its voice recognition
tech is disappointing, especially compared to the likes of
Killian: I’m not missing it. I get that it has
incredible potential. But none of that is going to happen
overnight. The scenarios you mention aren’t possible yet, and
when they are, who knows how much it will cost to get our hands
on the necessary devices. It’s going to be a long, long time
before our homes are working for us. Apple isn’t losing out by
stalling on HomeKit just yet.
Let’s hand this one over to the readers now. Do you think Apple
can make Siri just as good as Amazon Alexa and the Google
Assistant, or is it too far behind to catch up?
Night Fights is a series of weekly death
matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to
the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is
better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?