undated image made available by Google shows
"Google Now." Google is trying to
upstage Siri, the sometimes droll assistant that
answers questions and helps people manage their
lives on Apple's iPhone and iPad. The duel
begins Monday, April 29, 2013, with the release
of a free iPhone and iPad app that features
Google Now, a technology that performs many of
the same functions as Siri.
Fla. — Google Now is often compared with the Siri
voice assistant on Apple's mobile devices, but its
power lies in giving you information you need to know
before you have to ask. It works best as a supplement
to Siri, rather than a replacement, now that it has
expanded from Android devices to iPhones and iPads.
Google Now and Siri will respond to voice commands,
whether it's to look up the day's weather or set the
alarm on the phone. Google Now goes further in filling
your phone screen with boxes containing stock quotes,
sports results, weather, travel directions and more
— all without making a request.
choices are based partly on your location, the entries
in your calendar and the travel-confirmation messages
in your Gmail account. To use Google Now, you have to
give Google permission to use your personal data. You
can create a separate Google account if you're not
comfortable with that, though Google Now works better
the more it knows about you. It works best if you also
let it record and analyze the Google searches you've
the past several months, I've had a chance to use
Google Now on Android in 13 states and in Thailand.
I've found it particularly useful while traveling. As
soon as my plane landed in Orlando, Fla., on a trip
this year, Google Now offered "cards" with
details on my hotel and my car rental, based on
confirmation emails sent to my Gmail account. Clicking
the hotel card got me turn-by-turn directions to the
hotel using the Google Maps app. On the way home,
Google Now gave me the gate number for my connecting
flight in Charlotte, N.C., as the first plane taxied
from the runway.
iPhone and iPad owners can get that, too. Google Now
became available on Apple devices this week. Simply
download the free Google Search app through Apple's
the most part, the Apple and the Android versions are
similar in terms of the information they present.
Google Now isn't as seamless to use on the iPhone or
the iPad, mainly because Google doesn't have as
central a presence in Apple's iOS operating system. On
an Android device, clicking a Google Now card will
often take you to a built-in Google app such as Google
Maps or Calendar for more details. On the iPad Mini I
tested it on, I got Web pages — at least until I
manually installed Google's mapping app.
Now also isn't as easy to get to on the Apple devices.
Holding the home button a second or two gets you Siri.
Just speak to her with your question or search
request. To use Google Now as a voice assistant, you
need to open the Google Search app, and then tap on
the microphone icon. Sometimes, you need to tap on the
search box in the app for the microphone to appear.
That microphone is sometimes on top, sometimes at the
bottom or sometimes on the on-screen keyboard.
(There's no home button to quickly get Google Now on
Android, but you can skip one or two steps by finding
the microphone on the top right of the home screen.)
clear, Siri is the better of the two — as a voice
assistant. She'll always respond with something, even
if it's to seek clarification. Google Now will often
remain silent, sometimes giving you no more than a
list of websites. Google Now's assistant also lacks
Siri's feistiness and sense of humor. Siri, for
instance, has more than a dozen witty responses to
queries about the meaning of life. I compared the two
for a review in March, so I won't dwell on that here.
Google Now shines is in anticipating your questions.
Open the Google Search app, and you'll see cards fill
the screen with useful information.
Orlando, Google Now continually offered directions to
nearby breweries, possibly because I had searched
Google for information on tours. I got information on
a co-worker's flight from Las Vegas because he had
shared his Google calendar with me. And because I had
searched for Flowers Foods for a story just before my
trip, Google Now offered me directions to the baking
company's headquarters in Georgia when I was about a
half-hour away. I was actually headed to Montgomery,
Ala., but I appreciated the gesture.
in Bangkok and southern Thailand, Google Now was by my
side with information on currency-exchange rates,
language translations, tourist attractions and photo
opportunities. It also told me the current time at
home in New York, so I didn't need to figure out time
weekday mornings in New York, Google Now sends me
notifications on how long my commute should take,
based on public transit schedules at that time. It
tells me about my commute home in the afternoon. It
knows not to bother me with that information while I'm
typing or saying anything, I can press the search box
on my phone and automatically get a card with the
current weather and forecast. I can also get the
latest Mets and Nets scores that way.
Now's judgments on what information I need to know can
be sketchy at times:
Although I thought the offer for directions to Flowers
Foods was clever, I got annoyed with Google Now in
Bangkok when it continually gave me directions to
places I had searched but wasn't interested in
Searching for a company on Google often resulted in
stock quotes on that company for a day or two, even
though I don't own any stocks.
When I'm near a Barnes & Noble, I often get a card
saying I could research products there. Clicking on
the card gets me a link to the retailer's website and
a chance to "Scan for product information."
There was a camera icon, so presumably I could
photograph a bar code or other identifier. It's not
clear why I'm limited to being at a Barnes & Noble
to do that and why Google thinks I need it just
because I'm near a store.
getting stray information at times, I find Google Now
useful enough to leave it on. I could always customize
the service by telling it never to give me stock
quotes, for instance. And some of the cards are
enabled only when I have Google's Web History feature
turned on through my Google account settings. (Newer
accounts come with that feature already on, but you
can turn it off and still use Google Now.)
do have to give Google Now permission to scan contents
of your Gmail account, but it's typically limited to
confirmation notices from airlines and hotels rather
than discussions of hobbies and medical conditions.
You also must give it permission to access calendar
entries. Privacy worries aside, Google Now's appeal is
in what it does with that data. That's why I'm OK with
you think of the rivalry between Google and Apple,
don't look at Google Now as a Siri-killer. Think of it
as a companion for the tasks you can't accomplish with
a simple voice search.