It was just a year ago when Apple revealed their iPhone 4s, their only phone to support their new personal voice assistant program, Siri, designed to revolutionize how to use and search the internet with your phone. Well, it’s a year later and it’s Google’s turn to reveal their next generation voice assistance called Google Now and the internet is buzzing…
Voice activated-personal assistance became relatively popular within the Apple community during its early infancy when Apple debuted “Voice Control” for iPhone 3GS models in 2009. It offered plenty of audible feedback when you asked natural questions, but there was a lot to be desired since it offered very little visual feedback compared to what we’ve come to expect with Siri in 2011. It was also limited to device specific tasks with very little web searching I recall. For those thinking about other alternatives, Vlingo or Dragon Go, for example, they offered similar results of Apple’s “Voice Control” but at the time I found they lacked the polish and sophistication that would make voice searching real world useful.
Here’s a demo of Apple’s “Voice Control” in 2009
As an owner of a smart phone that has tried a handful of iPhone personal voice assistant programs, I’m happy to see competition is finally here in 2012 to really challenge Apple’s Siri, because Google, king of search, is not going to stand around and lose market share to Apple’s approach just because Siri is easier, convenient and faster at searching than traditional typing. Nope, not so fast, says Google, as they gear up to release a game changing update this year, but let us first take a trip down memory lane and discuss their current attempts at voice personal assistance.
In between the two years Apple released their first attempt at voice searching in 2009 with “Voice Control” and “Siri” in 2011, Google also debuted their own style of voice searching known as “Voice Actions” in 2010 for their latest Android OS at the time, code named Froyo (2.2). Google’s new Voice Actions gave Android users new abilities at tasking their phone with web searching, calling, texting and other device type actions by simply using their voice. As you can see from the demo below, Google’s approach in 2010 resembled Apple’s “Voice Control” approach from 2009 since they both functioned relatively identical at the time with some exceptions:
- Apple’s approach offered exclusively audible human interaction with no visual feedback
- Meanwhile, Google’s approach offered exclusively visual feedback with no audible interaction.
But that’s where things are about to change in 2012…
Here’s a demo of Google’s “Voice Actions” in 2010, which mimics Apple’s “Voice Control” in 2009
At this year’s Google I/O 2012 conference, among the many new features Google announced exclusively for their latest Android OS, code named Jelly Bean (4.1), their big tent poll feature was a major enhancement to their existing “Voice Actions” search functionality. Appropriately titled Google Now (click the link to learn more), Google announced their new personal voice assistant was designed to take on a more proactive roll, presenting you with information before you ask for it, than Siri’s reactive approach, presenting you with information after you asked for it, by automatically identifying your patterns, habits and locations to allocate your data as you travel. Sounds kind of creepy, but check this out:
- Should you be at a restaurant, Google Now will automatically present to you the most popular dishes.
- Should you be on a metro, Google Now will present to you the next trains to arrive.
- Should you be at a movie theater, Google Now will present the next show times for your location. That’s my favorite!
- Should you be at a bus stop, Google Now will present when the next bus will arrive.
- Bonus: Google was able to make their results render faster and sound less robotic than Siri’s attempt to sound human.
Google’s latest attempt at voice search with Google Now is what I’ve dubbed Augmented Search. For example, it’s not until you interact or are in proximity of required surroundings will you be presented automatically with local search results about those surroundings. This feature alone should separate and define Google’s approach from Apple’s attempt with Siri. So, I’m just saying it’s going to be interesting to see how or where Apple will take Siri after Google’s preview this summer. Can you imagine living in a world should you enter a big box store like Best Buy and your phone automatically alerts you immediately with discounts on new appliances? Some may not like that, but I think that’s pretty cool!
Taken from a scene in the movie, Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character walks inside a shopping mall while his eyes are scanned by 3D screens. Meanwhile, the screens call him directly by his name to get his attention. Pair Google’s new Augmented Search within Google Now and Augmented Reality within Google Glasses, and you’re really in the driver seat now abet a few privacy concerns I’m sure. It is Google after all.
For example, to take this to the extreme, I’ve always said that I want to live in a world where my phone will calculate my distance from my calendar event destination, should I be in jeopardy of becoming late or I drive to far away from my appointment, my phone will remind me if I don’t leave my location immediately and take these specific driving directions based on traffic conditions, otherwise I will be late for my event. This could very well be the power of Google Now! If this is not a personal assistant then I don’t know what is!
Although owners of the new Android devices Galaxy Nexus, Nexus S, Motorola Zoom and Nexus 7 tablet will be able to benefit from this new feature and many more features immediately, Google also announced earlier this month all iOS owners (iOS 5 and up) of iPod Touch, iPhones and iPads will reluctanly benefit from Google’s new personal voice assistant with a new free app under the same moniker, Google Now! I can’t wait!
Meanwhile, Google submitted their new ‘Google Now’ app for approval within the iTunes App Store on August 1 and nearly a month later, Apple has not yet approved Google’s competing personal assistant app, which many have said Apple could be stalling citing claims that it copies core iOS functionality. A valid guess since Apple did something similar when Google released a dedicated Google Voice app for iOS that was delayed an entire year from the iTunes App Store before the FCC stepped in.
Fortunately for the consumer, Google Now will certainly bring some heated competition to Apple’s Siri. Truth be told, Apple is experimenting with similar functionality, but limited to location-based reminders within iOS 5. Although Apple’s attempt requires you to ask Siri to create a reminder you, for example, “Please remind me to make coffee when I get to work,” it’s the second part of this process that requires the location of your work address to exist within your own personal phone contact for Siri to create the reminder. Then when you arrive at your office, Siri will alert you with a reminder to take action. So, it’s a little disappointing that you have to tell Siri where you live or work instead of Google Now’s approach which will most likely learn your behaviors, patterns and destinations.
Apple’s attempt is just the tip of the iceberg, because very soon, after Apple debuts their new Maps integration with iOS 6, I feel pretty confident it’s only natural Apple’s next attempt at location based reminders will offer much more intelligence. For example, should I need to get gas on my way home, instead of specifying a particular gas station address, like I would for work or home currently, Siri should be able to remind me when I’m approaching any gas station and suggest I pull over to fill up. Also, within iOS 6, when your children or other loved ones, for example, leave school or arrive home, using Apple’s “Find My Friends” app you can create location based reminders to alert you of their activity automatically.
Here’s an example of Apple’s current implementation of location based reminders:
I do anticipate upgrading to the new iPhone this fall, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to Google’s approach on my iPhone 4 as soon as Apple approves their update. So, let’s have at it already Apple!!
Check out this great related article, “Can Google Now take on Apple’s Siri and win?“, which by the way is 1 out of hundreds of articles out there buzzing about this very same subject, because Google Now will probably change how we interact with our phones.
Here’s a preview of the new iOS app Google Now with personal voice assistance:
Also, here’s a side by side comparison of Google Now vs Apple’s Siri.