Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.

53 Responses to “Siri vs. Google Voice Search for iPhone”

  1. Teirhan says:

    Oh rats, #otherteam beat #myteam.  Alternately, damn, #myteam blows #otherteam away. 

    More seriously, since my phone doesn’t support either feature (and probably never will – hi motorola!  How’s that Jelly Bean update coming?) This is all academic to me.  But i wish I had some of that sweet sweet futuristic voice control action.

    • regeya says:

      I don’t know about your phone, but I had an X2 (yeah, I know) and just got the email about the Motorola $100 rebate.  Unfortunately, there was an incident with my X2 about a month ago where it met the floor, it was an original-model X2 (believe it or not, there were two different Droid X2s) and nobody had any parts.  I replaced it with a GNex.  It will get the 4.2 update soon.

      • Teirhan says:

         Yeah, the rebate program is nice but unfortunately also worthless to me – after the hash motorola and verizon made of my droid bionic and its ICS update, I’m probably not going to buy a motorola phone again, unless it’s a motorola nexus…

        Verizon is really to blame, of course.  Their certification process and bloatware, as I understand it, is the reason that my ICS update didn’t release until last week-ish.  :(  Also unfortunately preventing verizon gnexus from getting jelly bean at the same time as the GSM gnexi.  They really need to flex some muscle like apple does and push for a consistent release date across all providers. 

        • teapot says:

          OK.. it’s all a bit more complicated then that but basically there are 3 forces at work which hold up OS updates on Android:

          1) Carriers who want you to get a new phone more often because they get a cut of the sale. Holding up OS updates means people get annoyed and buy a new phone.

          2) Manufacturers who want the same as carriers because moar! is never enough.

          3) Hardware diversity and regional customisation. Because most manufacturers make a Android phones that range in outright price from ~$200 to $800+ there is a great diversity of hardware from crappy to awesome. It is hard to get all hardware profiles to play nice with new OS updates because some of them simply don’t have the guts to run the basic functions of the OS. Same happens for Apple phones: iphone 3s does not get ios6 and iphone 4 doesn’t have siri (if I’m not mistaken). Regional cistomisation also holds up rollout of OS updates internationally because actual laws govern these phone in regards to things like emergency calling numbers and functions.

          If you want OS updates fast there is really only two options: Buy a decent phone and run something like cyanogenmod to take control of the phone and install whatever OS version you want. This option has the problem that in the case of some phone brands/models certain core functions of the phone (like bluetooth or wifi) may not always work (which bites). The other option is to get a Nexus series phone – the series which Google guarantees timely updates for, provided the phone can handle the new functions. I personally have a Nexus S which was one of the first (if not the first) phone to get both the ICS update and JB update over-the-air without any tinkering. This phone was released in late 2010.

          I am looking to upgrade soon but sadly Google (or LG, I’m not sure who to blame) this week officially announced the Nexus 4, but also announced that the phone is not going to have 4g connectivity (or LTE as Americans refer to it) which is just. plain. stupid. Talk about building redundancy into a device! That mean at present the phone I am considering is the Samsung Galaxy S3 4g (which has JB) but I really wish I was able to just buy a nexus series phone that had 4g.. C’mon LG/Google – make it and just take my damn money!

    • ramltfaw says:

       I’m in the same boat you are. My Thunderbolt is still running Android v.2.

  2. Oh snap! As an iPhone user I can’t help but feel p0wn3d

  3. nixiebunny says:

    I’m impressed to see that voice control is actually functional. There is a lot of engineering behind that ability to detect audio mutterings and figure out what they mean and how best to respond.

  4. immovableobject says:

    To get Siri to search the web, you need to tell it to “Find ‘whatever’ on the web” or “Search the web for ‘whatever’”.  Just saying “whatever” is not a query or command, which is why Siri was confused.  It’s not like Siri is incapable of the search.

    Google search is certainly faster at parsing speech because it does it locally rather than in the cloud. I suspect Apple will eventually do the same.  Currently, by sending audio to the cloud, they are amassing a huge amount of actual speech that will allow them to fine tune their recognition algorithms to better understand accents and variations in phrasing.

    One thing not shown is how Siri does much more than search. It can interact with some of Apple’s iPhone’s apps in sophisticated ways.  I use both Siri and Google search on my iPhone, each for what they do best.  Competition is a good thing.

    • Sam says:

      You’re totally right on the integration front: it’s nice that Siri has some limited control of Apple’s iPhone apps. I also love the dictation function, which works perfectly in most circumstances (I dictate my debit card number when I log into my bank app, which is way more reliable and way faster than typing on screen).

      I do, however, think this was a fair test. The video shows Siri performing the search, but only after additional input. Given the same command, the google app didn’t hesitate. As a Siri user who doesn’t use a headset, I’ve always found it strange that my voice interface requires me to tap buttons to search the web, create calendar appointments, or send text messages.
      Both phones in this demo received the same command. Telling Google Search to “search the web” would be more than a little redundant, and frankly Siri should be smart enough to know that if I’m not telling it to play music or giving dictation, I’m probably asking for info somewhere on the web.

      The video also demonstrates how embarrassingly far Google has outstripped Apple. I’ve been using voice controls on Macs since the mid 90s. Apple had plenty of time to get this right. Google caught up by offering Google 411, a free service they leveraged to create a huge database of human speech.

      The results are pretty one-sided: no matter how hard I try I can’t get Siri to understand the names of CBC podcasts (“Day Six” becomes “Bay Six” and “Q CBC Radio” is inevitably “Cue CBC Radio”) or the names of some people in my contact book. Google, on the other hand, takes about half a second to tell me there are 201 meters in a furlong.

      • immovableobject says:

        I’m not suggesting that users should have to tell Google Search to search the web because that is its main purpose. Because Siri is more than a just search interface, it does not assume that every utterance should initiate a search. Siri users should know this and be explicit if they want an immediate web search.
        Would you consider it a fair test if both programs had been asked to set an alarm or send a text message, and Google Search failed miserably?

        • technicalogical says:

          Would you consider it a fair test if both programs had been asked to set an alarm or send a text message, and Google Search failed miserably?
          Just tried it on my HTC One S and it worked flawlessly.  Opened my text app, set my alarm, and I was able to call out.  The voice recognition is pretty spot on.

          • immovableobject says:

            This article (and the video) was about a comparison of the Google Search app for the iPhone vs Siri, the iPhone’s system level voice assistant.  The two things are not exactly equivalent, and one wouldn’t expect them to have exactly the same behavior and capabilities.

            Now you are talking about comparing system level voice actions on the iPhone compared to that on your HTC.   This is a worthwhile comparison to make, but not really within the scope of this article. But understand that each phone’s voice input capability has its strengths and weakness, and one can bias the competition by choosing precisely which test cases to include. 

          • teapot says:

            You are fighting hard to make your point. If Apple allowed non-apple applications to access the OS features and app functions then this Google app could well beat siri at those tasks too. By making the challenge impossible you cannot then claim that siri is superior because it does stuff that the Google app can’t. The reason the Google voice function cannot operate functions within the OS is because Apple wouldn’t let it – or any other non-apple app for that matter.

          • immovableobject says:

            It may well be that Google’s voice recognition is superior to Apple’s, and that if only Apple provided system level hooks for third party apps to access and control other apps and access their data, then Google on the iPhone could do everything Siri does, and perhaps more.

            For security reasons, Apple has made the decision to tightly sandbox third party apps. iOS is still not invulnerable, but it should be noted that Android is subject to many more malware exploits than iOS.  This is the tradeoff one makes.

            http://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/102212-trendmicro-android-malware-263542.html

      • Ladyfingers says:

        Google voice commands are pretty thoroughly integrated on Android devices. The only major lack I’ve noted is an inability to search locally stored music files. I’m not sure if this level of integration is purposefully stymied by Apple on iOS, but given their general reticence to allow default associations to be changed, it seems likely.

    • jordan314 says:

      It’s so fast that I initially thought it was parsing the speech locally too; I don’t think it is though. I just tried google voice search in airplane mode and it immediately errorred out and said “no internet connection”. I think it’s just extremely fast at sending each transient to a cloud service, optimizing networking so that it communicates with a farm closest to you, and sending back and displaying and tweaking results in real time. It’s pretty amazing.  
      Here’s an article with more info on how it works.
      http://waxy.org/2008/11/deconstructing_google_mobiles_voice_search_on_the_iphone/

      • immovableobject says:

        I’m doubtful. Comments on the cited article share my skepticism.

        WIthout access to Google’s server, the app would be nonfunctional regardless of whether text was being parsed locally.  The fact that the app reports a missing internet connection before you start speaking doesn’t prove anything. It is preemptively warning you that speaking your query would be a waste of time.

      • Art Carnage says:

         You’re correct. The analysis is being done in the cloud. It uses a massive collection of previous Google searches to determine what search you’re asking for is the most likely. Since these searches comprise up to 230 Billion words (according to c|net ), it’s obviously not going to work locally.

    • madopal says:

      BTW, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to have Siri default to “if you don’t know, search the web”.  I mean, if the only option it presents is “I don’t know, do you want me to search the web?”…then what, exactly is the user supposed to do if that’s *not* the desired result?  Aren’t the odds better that someone on the web has tried to search with whatever was said than to make the user restate the request?

      • immovableobject says:

        In cases where Siri misunderstood a command intended to initiate a system or app level action, you might want to rephrase or speak more clearly.  Perhaps defaulting to web search should be an option.  But I don’t have a problem telling Siri to search the web when that’s what I want.  I’m not sure why this is a big deal.

  5. It wouldn’t be like this if they hadn’t gotten rid of Scott Forstall…

  6. Grok says:

    I’ve had very good luck with the Google Voice Search and it seldom misunderstands my request.

    Very ironic since the voice to text interpretation in Kingsoft Office is pathetic….. Amusing though.

  7. xzzy says:

    Oh, a video about the iPhone from giz “we instantly hate everything Apple does and spend our every waking moment looking for excuses to bash them” modo?

    I’ll never claim that Siri (or anything else under iOS) is “perfect” so don’t take this as the Apple Defense Squad showing up. Just that Gizmodo is a garbage news source that trolls people to drive up page views.. so make sure you’ve got a giant grain of salt in hand when viewing anything they produce.

    • Sam says:

      I can’t say I appreciate your tone here. Gidmodo live blogs Apple’s keynotes and it’s pretty obvious they also have iPhone users on staff. can’t hate Apple products that much.

      And as a lifetime Apple user and current iPhone owner, I can attest that Google Voice Search kicks the crap out of Siri in my experience. It’s faster, more accurate, and understands my (tragically Canadian) pronunciations more reliably than Siri. In other words, it’s just better.

      Just because they’re telling providing a comparison doesn’t mean they’re a garbage news source trolling Apple. Would you rather they lied? Or maybe that this technology site would write about something other than technology stories?

      • dbergen says:

        He meant they don’t worship Apple to the same degree as other sites, therefor they are faulty.

        • franko says:

          no, what he meant was exactly what he said, and he’s right. Giz has used every excuse to bash apple ever since they took part in the whole “lost iphone 4″ scandal, and apple rescinded their attendance at apple events. and they DO publish troll-y articles to drive up page views. i finally gave up on them and went to The Verge for my tech news.

    • Are you suggesting this is a faked video?

    • Dan Hibiki says:

      Reality has an anti Apple agenda.

  8. Timmo Warner says:

    This is a pretty fair video except in the case of the web search. Siri doesn’t search the web automatically unless you tell it to in your instructions so the results there aren’t really accurate. 

  9. Times like this, I think of this video clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9kTVZiJ3Uc

    Scotty’s confusion at the computer that doesn’t understand voice input seems quaint now that our FUCKING CELL PHONES do it. We are, truly, living in the future. Of course, it’s easy to forget that that movie came out in 1986, twenty-six years ago. Shit. I’m old.

    • Sagodjur says:

      It’s funny how quickly we hit the flip phone phase that resembled the Star Trek communicators and then cell phone designers realized that the flipping aspect was just a deterrent to easy access.

      The single function device concept was the short-sighted prediction of the future.

      That and our “futuristic” space uniforms don’t involve girls in go-go outfits either.

  10. Interesting, but I use Siri for sending text messages and setting timers/alarms. I pretty much never use it to search the web.

  11. Bodhipaksa says:

    I’m Scottish, so if I search for “Hurricane Sandy Damage Photos” I either get results for “Hurricane Sunday Damage Photos” or “Hurricane, it’s Andy. Damage Photos.”

  12. manveruppd says:

    I don’t care which one is fastest, I just want a voice commands implementation that understands my weird accent! :p Ironically, the only one I ever tried that was even close to functional for me was the voice dialling service in my old Nokia 3310, which, instead of using sophisticated voice parsing algorhitms to understand who I was asking it to call, simply made me record MY VOICE saying each contact’s name!

    Much more limited in scope, but far more reliable, as now I can’t do anything, as it’s bound to misinterpret one word or another in any command longer than a word or two!

    As an aside, I found the voice commands in my HP Pré 3 to be much better at understanding me than Google Voice.

  13. JIMWICh says:

    I was going to say, “It’s hard to wreck a nice beach.”

    But that was before Hurricane Sandy…

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