Siri needs a raise

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: January 18, 2013

Do you ever find yourself using a feature on your phone so much that you think it’s absolutely crucial to its existence? You use it so much that it’s become a learned habit, and you choose to do that one thing over another. I know people who use Apple’s Siri like that. They use the digital personal assistant for everything they can, foregoing specific applications (like sports apps) just so they can ask Siri what the score of a particular game is. There’s no doubt in my mind that they love Siri, and everything she can do.

The trouble is that all of them would not hesitate to point out that Siri has already fallen behind its main competitor, Google Now.

This October, Siri will turn two years old. That’s a big milestone for a piece of software that many believe is more or less a gimmick, and for anyone who is a fan of the feature it means that you’re hoping for a pretty big addition to its features list. I’m not going to say that Siri’s current abilities are limited, per se. For the iPhone, she does what she needs to do, right now. Her conversational tone, too, makes it a bit more personal than Google’s offering, which should count for something.

However, this June we’ll be celebrating Google Now’s first birthday, and I have every reason to believe that Google will be adding plenty of new features to the software. Even if they don’t give Android itself a major overhaul, they can still start adding more features to Google Now, striving to make it even better than it is now.

At their core, both digital assistants work the same way: You activate them, and then you ask a question, or make a statement. It is a straightforward concept, and they both work very well. The main difference comes in the fact that Google Now is a bit more . . . Well, it has more spunk, if you will. While Apple’s Siri is built to help you when you call upon it, Google Now is ready to help you even before you know you need help.

What I mean, is that Google Now is basically built into your Google profile. It knows things about you, thanks to Gmail, or your search history. Yes, it is invasive, but for anyone who has used Google Now for an extended period of time, you know how good it can be, even if it is creepy. (It is creepy.) Siri can tell you how long it will take you to get from your home to your office, thanks to Maps, but only if you ask her.

Google Now? It will notify you. It will tell you when your favorite sports team is starting a game. It will tell you the weather. When a package has shipped. Google Now will do all of these things without your provocation, and that’s something that counts for a whole lot more than just having a friendly, conversational tone.

I think Siri is great, and back at the beginning of 2012 I used the feature all the time. But ever since Google Now came into my life, I don’t use her at all. She has, without a doubt, been replaced.

Which is why Siri needs a raise. Apple has to look at their digital personal assistant, recognize the abilities, work ethic and punctuality (Siri is always there when you need Siri to be there!) and reward that. Or, give Siri some extra drive, so Siri will do things without being told to do so. Basically, Google Now goes out of its way to help. Siri will help only when Siri has to.

I prefer my digital personal assistant to think ahead, just in case I forget something, or something has happened that I may not know about, simply because I’ve been too busy to look it up. Google Now offers that, while Siri does not.

Not yet, anyway. Is Apple working on that functionality, in some way or another? I wouldn’t doubt they are at least looking into it. But I imagine that it would have to be tied to their cloud service, appropriately called iCloud, in some way or another. Based on the general displeasure I hear about iCloud on a regular basis, unless Apple made some pretty drastic changes there, I’m not sure how stoked people would be about that.

When looking back, actually, I think it’s worth noting that when I wrote about Microsoft needing its own personal assistant-like feature in Windows Phone 8, I didn’t say that WP8 needed a Siri competitor. Instead, I said they needed a Google Now competitor, and that still stands. But not so much because Microsoft needs it, but because I believe Google Now is the pinnacle of digital personal assistants. Google Now speaks quite loudly for Google’s initiative to help the user of Android phones, and even more so about the greatness of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

But, hey, even if Apple isn’t working on features that can be compared to Google Now, maybe there’s still a chance that Google can bring the feature over to iOS (or other platforms), and then we can have the best of both worlds, right? At least the option for both, but I’d use Google Now a lot more. Probably exclusively, actually.

I asked you once if you’d choose Google Now over Siri, or the other way around, but that’s not the question I’m asking you today, Dear Reader. This time I want to know if you think Siri could get better if it started including more features like Google Now, or if you think Siri has effectively jumped ship, and can’t really be rescued. More to that point, do you think Siri is a gimmick, while Google Now is more functional? Or is it the other way around? If you have an iPhone 4S or 5, do you use Siri on a regular basis, or have you forgotten about the feature altogether? Would you use it if it worked more like Google Now? Let me know!