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Siri, why is Google voice search better than you?

In case you missed it, a month or so ago, Google added voice search capabilities to its free Google Search app for iOS devices. If you haven't tried this out yet, I highly recommend you do: I find it so useful I've given Google Search a spot in my Dock.

What's so good about Google's voice search, especially on a device that comes with Siri already? To demonstrate the answer to that question, I made a little video, wherein I used my iPad mini to ask both Siri and Google four questions:

How do you spell exuberant? Who won the Trailblazers basketball game last night?
How do you make vanilla ice cream? How high is Mount Kilimanjaro?

So how'd it work out? See for yourself…

Watch the full-size version
[mp4 only • 1024x768 • 11MB]

(Production aside: Yes, I realize you can use Siri from anywhere. I toggled back to the home screen each time simply to give different backgrounds to Siri and Google.)

Read on for my thoughts on how these two tools compare.

Though both tools come up with similar answers (mostly), I find I prefer Google for a few reasons:

  • The real-time voice transcription. Instead of sending a recording of my voice to a server, having it transcribed, and then sending the result back to my device, Google is seemingly doing the transcription directly in the app. It's nice seeing what I'm saying in near real time.
  • Google manages to catch and capitalize things like Trailblazers and Kilimanjaro. It's a little thing, but it's a nice touch.
  • Google speaks many of its results, i.e. the spelling of exuberant and the height of Mount Kilimanjaro. No need to look at the screen when you can just listen. Even when Siri speaks, what she says may not be all that informative (i.e. "OK, Rob, here you go" for the spelling of exuberant).
  • If Siri doesn't know something (how to make vanilla ice cream), she asks if I want to search the web (what are my other options?). Because Google's already searching the web, I don't need to interact with it again to finish my original query. The search results are simply there.
  • Google shows not only the result of my query, but links to other possibly relevant information. Sometimes you get this with Siri, but not often.

If I were Apple, I'd be a bit embarrassed about Google voice search. Google has taken a key feature of the iOS ecosystem and made it seem more than a little antiquated. When your main competitor is shipping something that works better, faster, and more intuitively than your built-in solution, hopefully you're driven to improve the built-in solution.

Siri does have one key advantage, of course—she's never more than a press-and-hold away from activation. To use Google, I have to make a conscious effort to first switch to Google Search. This alone will keep many people using Siri. For me, though, the mild effort is worth it.

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