Google has made Google Now, complete with a voice assistant, available on iPhone and iPad. That move is a direct challenge to Apple’s Siri voice assistant. But which assistant is more helpful?
To find out, Boston.com senior business producer Daniel Kline took to the streets of Boston to put both products through their paces.
Leaving the Globe office
Google’s voice assistant is found inside the Google app whereas Siri can be accessed on iPhone 4S or 5 as well as on newer iPads simply by holding the main button down. This gives Siri a slight advantage in accessibility. To start out the test, I asked both assistants for directions from The Boston Globe office to the Omni Parker House hotel on School Street. Next
Omni Parker House
The test started out well for Google as when asked, “Where is the Omni Parker House hotel?” It not only found the address, it offered directions. Siri was less successful, offering a list of 15 hotels, none of which was the Omni Parker House. Next
Once parked near the Omni Parker House, I decided I would see how intuitive both assistants were. Neither produced a satisfactory answer to the query, “I’m thirsty,” and asking “Where can I get a cup of tea?” was equally unsuccessful. On the tea question, Siri asked if I wanted to do a Web search, while Google produced Web links to establishments that had the words “cup of tea” in their name.
Simply asking for “coffee?” was more satisfying as both apps produced lists of nearby options, though neither offered up the Finagle A Bagel I was standing in front of. Both were also equally good at finding nearby Starbucks locations, though each picked a different one about the same distance from my location. Next
The circus is in town
After walking away from Finagle A Bagel, ostensibly toward a Starbucks, I passed the giant tent for the Big Apple Circus, which is set up in City Hall Plaza for most of May. Both apps responded the same when I asked, “When is the Big Apple Circus playing Boston?” Siri and Google served up the Big Apple Circus website’s link as well as links to various ticket sites. Next
I pity the fool, who can’t find the T
Neither Google nor Siri was useful when trying to find the nearest “T” or “MBTA stop.” I was right near the entrance to Government Center, but the best either assistant could do was offer up a link to the MBTA website. Next
City Hall is on the map
While they struck out with the T, both assistants offered good walking directions to Boston City Hall. Next
Being near Faneuil Hall and the famous BosTix discount ticket kiosk, I asked both assistants, “Where can I find discount theater tickets?” in a number of different ways. Neither directed me to BosTix, and the closest either got was offering up unrelated, not useful websites. Next
Time for lunch
Siri answered the question, “Where can I find a burger?” by offering up a list of nearby burger places including UBurger, which was the closest to my location. Google was stymied by the question and did not seem to be able to process the concept of a burger place. Next
Noodles it is
Both assistants did well when asked the more general, “Where should I eat lunch,” producing similar lists of the many, many nearby eateries. Siri’s list was actually more useful as it offered a list where I could easily click for directions whereas Google offered a list of Web links that took more clicks to get to directions. Next
At the edge of Faneuil Hall lies a store entirely devoted to British boy band One Direction. Not being a fan, I asked both assistants, “Who are One Direction?” Siri did not appear to know and offered up a list of Web links not related to the band. Google, however, knew exactly what I was asking and it offered up links to both the band’s website and its Wikipedia page. Next
Are the Sox playing?
Hoping to return to more manly pursuits, I asked both assistants if the Red Sox were playing that night and both quickly offered up the details of the game in differing, but equally pleasant graphic treatments. Next
Whither the Bruins?
Neither app did as well when asked, “When do the Bruins start their playoff series?” Neither could answer the question though Google did offer a link to the Bruins roster — not exactly an answer, but at least the right team. Next
Good with directions
After leaving Faneuil Hall, I tasked both assistants with getting me directions to South Station, then North Station, then Logan Airport. Both did exceptionally well with driving directions for these well-known locales. In general, both assistants are pretty good with driving directions, but a little more hit or miss with less specific queries. Back to the beginning
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