I suspect that the top app that I use on my iPhone is the Mail app, but if you ask me about my favorite use of my iPhone, you'll get a different answer. I love using my iPhone to act as a sort of a second brain, helping me to remember things that I might otherwise forget and helping me to figure things out quickly. This type of technology is often called virtual assistant technology, and its usefulness is enhanced with the excellent voice recognition that has been a part of the iPhone since the iPhone 4S in October of 2011. There are actually two excellent virtual assistants on the iPhone today: Siri and the Google app.
Apple's built-in Siri is fantastic because you can quickly access it by just holding down the home button, and it has great access to many built-in apps. For example, I love being able to quickly say "send a message to my wife that I am running 5 minutes late" or "remind me when I get to work to call John Doe" or "add milk to my grocery list" and have the iPhone instantly obey using the Messages and Reminders apps. I also love being able to say "create an appointment with Jane Roe" and not only have a calendar entry created, but also be told if that conflicts with another appointment on my calendar. Very powerful, and very useful.
But Siri is not the only virtual assistant on the iPhone. The free Google app has always offered virtual assistant technology, and thanks to the recent addition of Google Now technology it is even more useful. Just launch the Google app and tap the Voice button at the bottom of the screen to get started.
In some ways, the Google app on the iPhone is not as useful as Siri because it lacks access to built-in apps, so you cannot use it to send messages, create appointments, or add items to the Reminders app. But if you are looking for information — such as the weather in a certain city, the name of the artist who wrote a song, the name of the star of a movie, etc. — the Google app is incredibly useful, and whether it or Siri give you better results just depends. It has never been easier to settle a bar bet regarding trivia.
Sharon Vaknin of CNET created a pretty useful video that shows Google Now versus Siri in action at the same time. Vaknin shows Google Now on an Android phone, and Google Now is more powerful on an Android phone than the Google app on an iPhone because, for example, on Android, it can access things like the calendar that only Siri can access on the iPhone. Even so, many of the Google Now results in this video could also be produced in the Google app on the iPhone, so this video does a good job of showing off the two services. The video is worth checking out:
Vaknin seems to be most concerned with the speed of the results, but since at most we are talking about the difference between 1 second and 2 seconds, I don't see speed as a major difference. In many cases I prefer Siri because it does a better job displaying the results in a form that is easy to read and useful to act upon. Having said that, there are also some search results that are better in Google than on Siri.Google Now and Siri can do a lot more than what I have described above. For example, Google Now tries to offer you information that you might want without you even asking, based upon things like where you are, what it sees in your GMail, etc. And both services get more useful every day as Apple and Google refine the results.
If you don't currently use Siri and/or the Google app as a virtual assistant — a second brain — you are missing out on one of the best features of the iPhone. Try it out.
Click here to get the Google app (free):