How Google Missed With Voice Actions

When Google launched Voice Actions a couple of years ago, I was really excited. I could do a Google search by voice, send a text, call someone, play music, or even email memos to myself. It was both fast and accurate – and why wouldn’t it be? Google has been gathering voice data for years through several services, including their free information line, GOOG-411. I was excited.

When Apple launched Siri just last year, I thought, “Great; another Google rip-off.” Then I started using it. I found that even if Voice Actions (VA) is more accurate, Apple wins this battle because it thought something through better than Google did: the user experience.

Don’t get me wrong. Google’s UX is generally very good. They have simple, slick interfaces (their iconic homepage, for example) and make their products easy to use and consistent. However, when it comes to VA, the capabilities are fairly limited, with little integration – and worst of all, there is a learning curve. In order for me to use Voice Actions, I need to know a small set of keywords. Granted, they are intuitive things like, “directions to” or “set alarm,” but it’s not all that natural sometimes. It also doesn’t talk back to you, which means that you need to be looking at the screen to make sure everything is done properly.

Compare that to Siri for the iPhone, which talks to you, integrates really well with the Calendar, Clock, Weather, and other apps, and allows for third party integration. When you use Siri, you don’t need to sound so robotic. If you want to set an alarm, you can say, “Set an alarm for 7am” or “Wake me up at seven.” Either one works. With Google Voice Actions, the latter will get you a Google search.

The same goes for weather. Siri allows you to say things like, “What’s the weather like?” and “Tell me the weather in New York.” Siri will then bring up the weather app, and say something like, “Not too bad today,” or “Looks like rain.” Either one of those on Android will bring you to a Google search. The search results are good – but they aren’t integrated and they don’t give you audio feedback.

Google Voice Actions and Siri Side-by-Side

Again, I’m not saying Voice Actions is bad. As I said earlier, it’s is very accurate. As a matter of fact, it’s much more accurate than Siri is – and that’s with 40 years of DoD research behind it. When I did a search on both for, “How long is the Las Vegas Strip?” VA got it right, but Siri thought I was saying, “Las Vegas trip.”

And this is where most of my argument stems from. Google released something first and it is much more accurate, but Apple did it better in two more important aspects: UX and marketing. Android users I talk to that aren’t as tech-savvy I am either don’t even know Voice Actions exists, or never use it because they think it’s just for Google searches. Google had the foresight to know that voice recognition would be a big thing years ago – just as they did with mobile in general – but they failed to properly execute it because they don’t advertise. (That, fortunately, has changed over the last couple of years.)

As much as I’m bothered by Apple, it completely won this round. It might have been late to the market compared to Google, but it did it right with the full device integration and actually telling people that Siri is there to use. What upsets me is that when Google releases “Voice Assistant” (rumor has it sometime this year), people will think Google are the ones ripping off Apple.

I guess that’s why competition is healthy though. Without Siri, Voice Actions may have gone untouched.

Conclusion

Google Voice Actions was first to market and was pretty great for being a first try on the market and an integrated voice recognition app. On top of that, it’s very fast and very accurate. However, Google let the app stagnate a little bit and didn’t really think the UX through. Apple, on the other hand, really considered how people would be using Siri, integrated it very well into iOS, and told people it was there.

So Google really missed the mark on Voice Recognition apps. I hope the new iteration, Voice Assistant, can fix that because Google does it really well, and has the great potential to blow Siri out of the water.


  • rob

    Hey maybe you should change the name of your blog to apple storm since you’re such an ios fanboy. Even the cofounder of apple Woz like Android voice actions better than Sure. It’s so funny when apple fanboys masquerade as impartial journalist and say things like dont get me wrong I like Android and then proceed to laid apple and bush Android as if their opinnoions were fact. It may fail the average iclone but Android users are a little smarter than that and can spot apple bs when we see it.

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      C’mon man, this isn’t bashing Android. Joe’s a long-time Android user who recently got an iPhone, and he’s explaining what makes Siri such a big deal. That’s all.

    • http://www.casabona.org/blog/ Joe Casabona

      Look, I’m a huge Android fan. What makes me objective is I can admit when Apple does something better. I think the proof of that is Google is working on Voice Assistant to compete with Siri.

      The problem with debates like this (and commenters like you) is that we can’t have a reasonable discussion without it degrading to, “You’re such a fanboy!” It’s really a shame.

    • James

      I’d personally say that the article is very balanced and that Apple did do a better job of marketing Siri than Google did with VA. Just because someone points out an issue with your preferred OS doesn’t mean they’re the enemy. :D

      You can see that Apple won this round from the fact that as soon as Siri became available there were clones of the UI in the Android market. I’m using one called Iris but before Siri I’d hardly touched VA, which shows that Apple’s marketing got through to me a hardened Android fan.

    • unknown9819

      It’s so funny when people try to call people impartial journalists and have a complete bias themselves… and no ability to speak to boot. Also, this is a review… or you know an opinion (or opinnoion i guess). Here’s some advice- don’t embarrass yourself in the future and stay off the comment threads.

      Thank you Joe Casabona for the review

    • Paul

      So true

    • David

      ios fanboy? apple storm? LOL there is already an appstorm for iphone, in case you didn’t know (http://iphone.appstorm.net/).

      And if you are going to hate on an article, at least say it in a manner that others can understand… nobody understands what “apple Woz like Android voice actions better than Sure.” even means. I come to android appstorm maybe once a week and it has always given me insight into the android platform, whether it be wallpapers or apps. Maybe Siri is better than Voice Actions. I can’t say because I have never used Siri. But you are going to hate on the author and call him an ios fanboy for reviewing two products and comparing them?

  • Roland

    Rob, what is with this flame war propaganda speak? The author gives his OPINION on which service is more well defined in terms of an abstract concept specified as user experience. The laurels of Android are well defined vis-à -vis accuracy and design. I think the main argument here is Apple “selling” the concept to the masses by placing it at the forefront of the OS and driving actions based on it whereas in Android it is more subtle and “off the beaten path”.
    I don’t think there is much argument from my end. Android excels at computation and functionality and Apple thrives in aesthetics and marketing. VA vs Siri is just a recent example that proves the propagation of this steretype.

  • Jimmy Johansen

    @rob

    I’m a huge android fan. But you’re wrong. Mr. Casabona made some good points. You also need to remember everyone who buys an android isn’t a techie young person who’s gonna root it within hours of purchase and have a custom ROM running on it from the gate. Some of our users (yes I said “our” because Android is a community) are just people who want a cool phone. They want it to be like a TV or a car. To look nice and do what’s it’s supposed to do with as little problems as possible. They may be housewives or construction workers. 70 year old grandfathers or 7 year old granddaughters. No ecosystem should be built out of anyone’s reach. That hardheaded view is why so many are scared of Android. But both kinds of users can be happy.

    I love my rooted EVO 4G with a custom ROM and Ice Cream Sandwich sprinkles….
    and my wife loves her EVO Shift that’s fully stock.

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  • Jeff Osborne

    Siri is a gimic. Instead of android trying to create a siri knock off, why don’t they incorporate voice control where it would benefit having it and not worry about making some global do all that ultimately just becomes some useless party entertainment app.

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  • smoggendon

    It is the same old thing. Apple decides what content you get. I don’t want my phone telling me what to do. For example there is much more accurate weather than this mainstream weather that apple pulls up. I want the freedom to make my own choices. Apple treats you as if you don’t know anything and you need to be lead by the hand. I will admit there is a mass of people that fit that description in this country today. Those of us that don’t live in new york city or places like that have to be more specific of weather traffic or news or things like this. I’m sure sirie works great for those of you that live in new york city looking for a
    coffee shop or wanna know the weather. It’s somewhat useless out here in the real world.

  • David

    Apple did a good job with Siri. I am sure Siri will improve in the future. I am sure Google will improve Voice Actions. What’s wrong with being in the Android camp and acknowledging a good feature from Apple?

  • saul

    I just want to add to this if the ever tried “voice action plus” or jennie app please try it and compare it with siri

  • Jessica

    I do understand what your points are on the iphone VA and the google VA there is something available on the market that is a beta product titled iris as in siri backwards and i think that is better and more improved upon siri. You should check it out its free and its well worth trying it out to see what you think.

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