Virtual Assistants and Artificial Intelligence are two phrases that are all over the news. Most of you will have seen the adverts for Google, Microsoft and Apple’s take on these, but how do they really compare?
Both Google Now and Cortana have the ability to listen to a question and fix any ‘misunderstood’ queries to ensure the question makes sense. However, Siri does not have this capability so sometimes it can take a couple of attempts to get Siri to understand what you are asking, especially if you have a strong accent.
Defining usefulness all depends on what you expect a virtual assistant to be able to do.
Google Now is great at understanding questions and answering them with images, web searches and summaries. In most cases, it reads out the answer to your question, making the experience totally hands-free. Another feature of Google Now that wasn’t featured in the competitors until recently (with Siri now also being capable) is that it remembers the previous questions you have asked. For example, you can ask it the capital of a country and then ask for the population without having to specify the city again.
Siri has a couple of set-backs which could reduce its usefulness. Although it is able to answer the majority of questions, it can easily misunderstand and either refuse to answer or give you a search on something completely unrelated. It still reads the answer, but not in as much detail as Google Now, and requires a bit more input when setting tasks.
Cortana is excellent at organising your contacts and calendars. It is the only one of the three that can set reminders for when you next talk to someone, which is a really useful feature. It can also scan your emails to automatically add appointments to your calendar, and can even track your deliveries for you. When it comes to asking questions, Cortana presents a search result similar to the other two, but tends not to read out the answer, leaving you to read it for yourself.
After reading multiple reviews and testing out the virtual assistants for myself it is clear that Google Now is the fastest of the three. However, the difference is barely noticeable, as Siri and Cortana generally only take a second or two more.
However, speed can also be affected by the ability to recognise your voice. You don’t want to have to repeat yourself several times, and then just give up and complete the task manually.
Humour and Friendliness
The first thing most of us do when we gain access to a new virtual assistant is ask it amusing questions, such as ‘tell me a joke’ and the well-known ‘what is 0 divided by 0?’. Siri is great for this, and is the most popular for its witty responses. You can also teach it how to pronounce your name correctly, as well as set your preferences.
Cortana, which was originally named after a character from Halo, is also great at interaction. It will tell you jokes and even sing to you.
Google Now, on the other hand, is very robotic in its response to humour. It will simply perform a relevant web search and give very little personal interaction.
After reading up on the three big players in virtual assisting, it has become apparent that each has its strength and weaknesses.
Google Now is probably the most productive, as it is quick and straight to the point. It is a no-nonsense way of gaining information without having to touch the device you are using.
Siri seems to be better for social and leisure tasks. I think it would suit a home user more than a busy business user. It is able to perform simple management tasks and provides knowledge, but also has the personal touch of learning to pronounce your name and remembering your birthday. Siri is more like a virtual friend than assistant.
Cortana is the happy middle ground. I think it is best for business users, as it is not only able to perform searches on both your PC and the internet, it can also monitor your emails and manage your calendar in the way a real personal assistant might.