Siri, Cortana, or the Guy at Google Now: Who’s the Best Assistant?

smiling businesswoman communicating with helpline operator

Here at 4GoodHosting, we’re a premier Canadian web hosting provider, and as such you can be certain we love anything related to the mobile communications world. You’d be hard pressed to find any newer-model smartphone and computer on the market today that doesn’t have a smart assistant preloaded and waiting on your every inquiry, Apple has Siri, Windows has Cortana, and then there’s the lesser known but equally useful Google Now.

So how do they stack up against one another in our opinion? To the more casual observer or passive participant it may seem like Siri, Cortana, and the nameless Google Now assistant are all pretty much the same — and, to a great extent, they are. But they also have several tangible differences and in each case they’ve got at least one quirk, flaw or strength between them.

So which one would be best for you? Of course, you’re not going to make a purchasing decision for your next smartphone based exclusively on the type of assistant it comes with, but it may be a prominent consideration.

It’s not an easy question to answer, with the fact they’re so similar making it hard to compare them without digging deep into their capabilities.

Let’s give it a try.

Siri

Siri has been one of the flagship features of iOS since the 2011 launch of iOS 5. It’s somewhat humble beginnings were with the basics, like weather forecasts and messaging, but it’s expanded in leaps and bounds since, and most notably it now supports third-party integration with MacOS Sierra and iOS 10.

Indeed, Siri’s jokes and witty comebacks continue to be a hit, but the virtual assistant is becoming more and more capable as the years go by. These days you can ask it to call people, send messages, schedule meetings, play games, launch apps and games, answer questions, set reminders, and still provide those weather forecasts.

Siri’s also very capable with understanding contextual queries, and with the MacOS Sierra and iOS 10 versions it relies a lot less on web results in choosing the response. Siri can also integrate with third-party apps and understand follow-up queries. This was a significant departure for Apple, which has always maintained tight creative control over which 3rd-party companies are granted access to its native functions. As a result, we feel it’s a bit premature to judge how well this stacks up to Cortana or Google Now.

Siri has no troubles contextually searching for files in MacOS, although we think it’s fair to say she doesn’t seem to have the learning capabilities that Cortana does. Especially when it comes to personalized responses.

Another detractor for Siri is in the way it’s reliant on voice input. Cortana and Google Now both work very well with text input, while Siri requires voice input. It is possible to edit your dictation after it’s been received, but that’s not going to appeal to any user. This is especially annoying with the MacOS version of the assistant, with the fact there are any number of reasons or scenarios where a user might not be able to talk to his or her Mac, like in a crowded workplace for instance, or while in bed with your partner asleep next to you.

Cortana

On Windows Phone, users can have Cortana make calls, send messages, set reminders, take notes, recognize music, find great restaurants, check your calendar, among many more functions. The Windows 10 version of Cortana offers a few more features, namely the ability to search files by context, and wit the Windows 10 Creators Update you have even more functionality, including the ability to lock, restart, or shut down your computer. Add the fact all of this is done using natural language and that’s fairly impressive.

Another appealing feature with Cortana is that Microsoft’s virtual assistant is analyzing your interactions at nearly every step to learn more about your preferences. This info is stored in something premier Canadian web hosting provider and the information includes the places you like to go, people your interactions suggest you care about, the times of the day that are your ‘quiet times’, and things you might be interested in based on your viewings, among other things. And if you’d like to overrule Cortana, you can edit them any time you like.

There’s more. Cortana is also capable of reading your emails, tracking your location, taking note of your browser history, checking your contact list, keeping tabs on your calendar, and then putting all this data together to suggest info / choices in the future, if of course you allow it to. Cortana has also been formatted to recognize context, so most of the time it will be able to understand follow-up requests, and you can even phrase inquiries or requests in different ways and Cortana is able to take the contextual clues and respond accordingly, again most of the time. You can also type your questions or requests if you’d rather not speak out loud.

Cortana is not limited Microsoft’s apps, either, as it can access third-party content as well. The assistant can also add something to your Hulu queue, or check out a friend’s Facebook feed. More and more third-party connectivity is being added all the time.

Google Now

Google Now is different from Cortana and Siri in a number of ways, but most particularly in that it’s designed with less personality – and more functionality – in mind. Yes, it is an integral part of Android, bit Google Now can also be used via an iOS app, or accessed via the Google Chrome browser on any mobile internet device.

The best way for you to conceptualize the functionality of Google Now is to think of it as an extension of Google’s existing search capabilities, as compared to it being more simply a full-on smart assistant. Google Now does much of what the other two virtual assistants do, and does it just as well the majority of the time and with similar speediness. Like Cortana and Siri, you can ask Google Now for directions to the closest Pho restaurant, or what kind of weather you can expect over the next 10 days.

With your approval, Google’s software will utilize your search history and customize its responses based on what it’s gleaned from your preceding queries. For example, if you ask Google Now to inform you about what’s in the news, it will provide news articles it believes would interest you, based on what you’ve previously read on Google.

Further, the platform’s additional third-party support means that – like Cortana and Siri – you can add new features to Google Now that aren’t a native component of its platform.

Google’s integration with its search engine is a BIG plus, and it makes Google Now one of the most useful virtual assistants out of the box. Unless you’ve yet to use Google as a search engine (highly unlikely), it will already have a mound of data and footprints for your movements on the web. It will also pick up on your habits if you’re using it on a smartphone, and will try to serve you a specific card in advance of your next request. You can even tell Google Now whether it’s actually serving you relevant cards, and if not the software will improve in short order.

Google Now on Android operates much like Cortana, given it’s tightly integrated with the operating system’s search functionality. As you go about your browsing, Google Now will pull up relevant information. If you’re reading about a new music album, for instance, it might suggest a card with a list of dates for that band’s tour, or recorded music from bands of the same genre.

The Decision

Despite the fact Siri finally made it to MacOS, Cortana has to be regarded as the most fully-featured assistant currently available. Apple has decided to finally open up Siri to third parties, and that will make a big difference, but the growth hasn’t happened yet, and it remains to be seen if it can even match what Cortana and Google Now are currently offering.

In truth, Apple remains at a disadvantage due to its own business model. Both Microsoft and Google own services that a vast array of web users already utilize. Combining this with a virtual assistant makes it more convenient to the person using it, because it will very quickly display its ability to anticipate what you might be looking for, with at least some effectiveness (and always improving in this regard)

All this said, the best smart assistant is the one you have ready at this very moment. Our recommendation is that you try their respective apps on your smartphone, your desktop, and perhaps even some of your smart home devices before deciding on the one you want to be getting to know you, so very well.

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