In their recent I/O, Google announced that their virtual assistant (or Google Assistant, as it is known) is finally coming to iOS. Now that Siri and its biggest competition are on the same platform, we wonder, which of them is going to come on top.
The War of Virtual Assistants
Siri and Google Assistant are both same fundamentally. They are AI based virtual assistants that help you get tasks done with ease. But their execution couldn’t be farther away from each other.
Siri is closed, mechanical, and disassociated from other apps. Google Assistant, on the other hand, is open, understands natural language, and is incorporate right over the OS, ready to jump to your help in a second. As declare by Google:
“It’s your own personal Google, always ready to help.”
And to a large extent, it does work like an actual assistant. Unlike Siri, which is more or less a keyboard-less way of using the internet.
When asked for cheapest flights between two places, here’s what the two assistants came up with.
As you can see, Google Assistant is far more useful in returning the relevant results. This difference is simply a result of where the two companies see their products in the larger scheme of events.
Google Assitant is Google’s vision for the future of how we interact with our phones. They want to remove the concept of individual apps altogether, and replace it with one single app — Google Assistant — that can do every task for you.
You want to watch a YouTube clip about how to make pasta?
You got it.
You want to share that clip with someone?
You want to find out which restaurant in your locality serves that dish?
Well, here you do.
You want to order it?
It’ll be here in half-an-hour.
But how do I pay?
Don’t worry; Google Pay has got you covered.
Currently, we have to open at least 3-4 different apps to do the above, but Google Assistant can do all of that from a single place.
I would like to point out here that the difference in functionality is not because of a difference of technology. Both Apple and Google are more than capable of writing equally powerful code. And yet, the two assistants differ fundamentally because of the approach the two companies have towards privacy.
The Opposing Approach
Apple wants everything to be closed. They want to keep the data private and the user isolated. This is a severe impediment to machine learning algorithms which live and breath on heaps of user generated data.
And that’s exactly opposite of what Google does. Google wants to keep everything open. It wants to collect all the data it possibly can, churn it this way and that, and bring to you the most personalised result possible. And the more you interact with the app, the more it learns, and the more accurate it gets.
If you’re a Swiftkey user, you’ll have experienced this: how freakishly accurate its predictions get the longer you use it.
The Inherent Limitations
Because of the two starkly different approaches, Google has often found itself at conflict with Apple when it comes to launching its apps on the iOS. Apple doesn’t grant Google the permissions it needs to function effectively, and the result is easily visible.
Google Assistant is unable to basic phone tasks such as changing settings or making calls.
Notice how slyly it can’t change settings on “iPhones”? Not this iPhone, just iPhone in general. It’s like they are rubbing it into you, subtextually urging you blame Apple for their close-mindedness.
So that’s where Google Assistant lacks. And that’s the biggest barrier it will have to overcome to replace Siri as the assistant of choice on iOS.
But Google does have help there. Apple may not grant Google access to native iOS apps, but there is nothing they can do from stopping the Assistant integrating with other Google products!
Oscar Raymundo of MacWorld observes:
“During our test, both voice assistants were able to give us directions to “work,” show us photos of our pets, make phone calls, and send emails and texts. Of course, Siri completed all these tasks using the iPhone’s native apps, while Google Assitant tapped into Google Maps, Google Photos, and Gmail. So, the best assistant in this category will most likely depend on whether you’re using the default iPhone apps or opted to use Google’s suite instead.”
Apple’s fight is to keep Siri relevant in a world already flooding with virtual assistants. As it realised with its keyboard, users will be willing to give up native apps pretty quickly if they are offered better functionality elsewhere. And Apple can’t hope to succeed by just blocking out the competition. It needs to get into the arena, it needs to fight, and it needs to beat the others fair-and-square in order to really succeed.
Google, on the other hand, needs to solve its problem of compatibility on iOS. Apple is not likely to cave in that easily. The only way to make Apple give up control is by forcing it into a corner. And that will happen when everyone else is on board with Google, except Apple.
Google knows this, and it has already started taking steps towards making Google Assistant more compatible with other iOS developers.
WIRED Magazine remarks:
“Google did announce a software development kit, or SDK, today at I/O. That means anyone will be able to build an app with Assistant integrated, so you might start to see the Assistant pop up everywhere soon. And Google’s working on making Assistant work on devices all over your life, from your car to your office to who knows what else?”
It’s going to be one hell of a fight between these two virtual assistants, and it’s going to be next big point of contention between these two tech giants. Personally, I am rooting for Google because I don’t like how Apple decides what’s best for me and doesn’t give me any choice in the matter. I like the big data mindset of Google, and I am certainly awed by AI and Machine Learning.
But that’s just me. And I am no Tim Cook.